Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers

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Peter L. Benson
235 pages. $24.95.

Building on Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets, Benson, the institute’s CEO, introduces “sparks” – shorthand for “follow your bliss” – that illuminate teenagers’ pathways to their life purpose.

In recent surveys, when adolescents were asked to cite the passions, talents and interests that express who they are, nearly 70 percent identified such sparks, from music and nature to sports and helping others. Yet that leaves 30 percent – an estimated 12 million teenagers nationwide – who don’t believe they have a spark to help guide their futures.

Young people’s sparks need nurturing by significant adults, starting with parents, but going well beyond them as well. Search Institute’s research shows that youth whose sparks are supported by several adults are more healthy and socially competent, have higher grades and better school attendance, and are more optimistic and less likely to be depressed than those without such sparks.

In careful steps filled with quizzes, self-assessments, checklists and true stories, this engaging guide empowers adults to help teens discover their sparks and bring them to life. Benson assigns supporting roles to non-parental “spark champions,” such as coaches, counselors, mentors, teachers, neighbors, aunts, uncles, church members and club leaders. “A spark is about developing yourself from the inside out,” Benson writes. This new aspect of youth development is an exciting and worthy outgrowth of the developmental assets approach. (800) 225-5945,,