Using the power of ‘spark’ to help youth thrive

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Vickie Leflore, Youth Development Extension Educator

I was recently watching a Ted Talk regarding this notion of “spark” in youth.

Thriving human development is about finding young people’s spark. Spark is what brings about joy.

It “is a metaphor for describing how young people experience talents, interests or strengths that make them feel really happy, energized and passionate, and that gives them real purpose, direction, or focus” (Search Institute — Teen Voice, 2009).

The Search Institute has completed a plethora of research on youth development and why some youth thrive and others may struggle or just get by.

The language of thriving human development is infused by quality and not quantity.

Words associated with thriving include hope, fulfillment, kindness, connectedness, joy, contributor, engaging, generosity, compassion and happy.

Researchers have explored many factors that are key to thriving. One of the major factors affecting thrive is allowing that inner light to shine, the emerging of that human spark.

Human spark is what energizes the individual; it gives purpose and direction.

Peter Benson of the Search Institute speaks of the best human development as the development from the inside out and not the outside in.

Lacking spark support

Unfortunately, many youth lack spark support outside of their immediate family. Human thriving typically starts to diminish by the time a young person enters high school.

Some of the categories of spark include leading, helping, serving, volunteering, learning a specific subject, service to the globe, athletics and the creative life.

The creative life has been one of the most acknowledged spark categories in youth. It includes art, music, drama, dance and movement.

Simply because a youth has a specific spark doesn’t mean that is going to be their life’s work. However, in the present, it is what drives them and what gives them joy now.

When teenagers are aware of their sparks, they “are more likely to report higher levels of initiative, sense of purpose and desire to make a difference. They are also more likely to value having strong friendships, being civically engaged, and serving others.” (Search Institute — Teen Voice 2009).

The spark formula

Simply asking young people what it is that gives them drive or what is it that gives life meaning provides an opportunity for engagement.

Spark alone cannot induce human thriving. The Search Institute’s Thriving Formula is finding the spark plus having three spark champions (individuals that acknowledge and support your spark) plus providing an opportunity to demonstrate spark.

Spark conversation starters

Tell me what it is about you that gives you joy and energy.

What is going on in those moments when life feels the richest and the fullest with purpose and hope?

What is your spark?

Does anybody know your spark and does anyone nourish your spark?

Always repeat their spark back to them and let them know you see it and thank them for possessing it.

Talking and most important listening to a young person about their spark and nurturing their spark can be life-changing.