Are youth today thriving and successful? The answer depends on how you measure success. In today’s society the metric of youth success is often thought of as high achievement test scores, or athletic accomplishments. I challenge these measures and say that although they are important there is something critical missing.
Most of us at one time or another has paused to ask ourselves if we are on the right road. Are we spending our time in meaningful ways which allow us to contribute with a passion and purpose? If our answer is no, there can be a feeling of regret for having spent far too long running in the wrong direction. For those who are spending their time meaningfully there is a sense of thriving, wholeness and happiness that can be felt by all who know them.
Youth ask themselves the same questions. They also struggle to find their purpose. Far too often we hear young people say things like, “you don’t understand, you never listen.” Translated those words mean, “you do not see ME for who I am inside”. Our society has done a great job of filling our young people up with rules, values, academics and social skills but we have forgotten to pull out what already exists within them. Simply said we have forgotten to ask them, “What is your breath?” What is it that makes you feel alive, that makes you shine, and gives you purpose?
According to Search Institute, the activities that make us feel alive are called SPARKS. Sparks come in many forms including writing poetry, dancing, drawing, helping others, sculpting, reading, taking photographs, playing an instrument, or singing, just to name a few. According to Search Institute 55% of youth surveyed said their spark came from the creative life. Unfortunately, far too few young people spend three or more hours each week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts. Only 19% of youth surveyed have asset #17, Creative Activities, in their lives.
The solution is not as simple as it sounds. Enhancing existing arts programs or adding additional programs into communities is only one piece of the puzzle. The second, even more important piece is for adults to be able to recognize the spark that already exists within youth and pull it out of them. When a coach, teacher, neighbor, parent, youth worker or pastor takes the time to tell a young person that they see something in them that is positive, and useful to the world, barriers break. Suddenly youth feel “SEEN”.
In recent years we have become so proficient at viewing youth through a lens of deficits and problems that we struggle to see their potential. The change from deficit thinking to naming, and seeing their spark is critical. All youth have a spark within them but far too many are waiting for caring adults to help them identify what it is. Young people who are lucky enough to know their spark, need three or more adults who see them for what they bring to the world in order to keep their fire lit.
Can you see what ignites a child by looking in their eyes? Are there clues to tell us when youth are thriving? If only it were that easy. As adults we must take the time to help youth learn their heart song, and hum it to them every day as loudly as we can as a reminder of the good, beautiful and unique gifts they bring to the world.
This article was written by Allison Heidorn, ASAP Project Assistant.