Support Your Teen's "Spark"

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The high school years are a time of exploration, energy and growth. Anything seems possible! At the same time, striking out in a new direction can feel overwhelming and sometimes even impossible. Taking certain kinds of risks and experimenting with new interests are the ways that youth learn about themselves and the world to find their “spark,” in other words their deep passions and meaningful pursuits.

A “spark” is a metaphor[1], used in research on adolescent development, that describes the internal response that occurs when teens are flourishing. As teens explore different activities and interests, they are exploring who they are in the world, what they have to offer and what is valued by others. They discover what gets them excited, what feels meaningful, and what doesn’t. The journey into the unknown offers opportunities to learn how to interact with others, how to respect others and respect themselves.  Even when we, as adults, don’t understand them, even when they change monthly or weekly, and even when their interests don’t make sense to us—when we support our teens’ sparks we are helping them find their passions and build a life that makes sense to them.

Safe Risk Taking might look like:

  • trying out for a drama production,

  • mustering the courage to ask someone on a date,

  • going to a science camp after years of art classes,

  • checking out a club at school that none of your friends go to,

  • applying for a job, or

  • dropping music and picking up automotive class.

In a study[2] that surveyed 1,817 youth across the United States, researchers found evidence that links interests, opportunities and supportive relationships to youth finding their “spark” and feeling empowered to have a voice in their lives. After reviewing the data, the authors make the suggestion that asking adolescents six ‘‘essential questions’’ could have a positive impact on both adult-youth relationships and feelings of empowerment.

  1. ‘‘What is your spark?’’

  2. ‘‘When and where do you express it?’’

  3. ‘‘Who knows your spark?’’

  4. ‘‘Who nourishes your spark?’’

  5. ‘‘What gets in your way?’’

  6. ‘‘How can I help you find and keep your spark?’’

The support that parents and other adults offer their teens clearly communicates encouragement[3] to learn new things and to discover themselves and their unique skills.  Confidence, autonomy and self-knowledge is nurtured when “sparks” are explored and supported and teens discover how to become the young men and women they are capable of being.

 

This is one of four key messages created by SACY (School Age Children & Youth)[4]. An initiative of the Vancouver School Board and community partners, SACY provides learning opportunities for parents in the hopes of strengthening relationships in the home and with the school. Experience has shown that youth with strong connections to family are less likely to use substances in a problematic way.

Also see: 

The term is used by the Search Institute and author Peter Benson to describe the "internal animating force that propels development forward." 

It is also one of the adolescent brain changes that Daniel Seigel highlights in his book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. He describes it as, "the important internal sensations that are more intense during adolescence but serve to create meaning and vitality though our lives."

 

A study of 1,817 fifteen year olds suggests that there is an additive power of identifying and nurturing young people’s ‘‘sparks,’’ giving them ‘‘voice,’’ and providing the relationships and opportunities that reinforce and nourish thriving.

Communication is not more than the exchange of information - it is part of a meaningful relationship between parents and their adolescent children.

 

Visit the SACY site for more information and inspiration to build connections between parents and youth.

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.