Passion. Everyone has one — it just takes some people longer than others to find it. Some people don’t discover the thing that truly excites them until they are well into adulthood. Others find their passion early on, thanks to a natural talent or aptitude. Regardless of when it’s discovered, though, passion is important. It helps provide purpose, motivation, and even in some cases, a career direction.
While some argue that teens are too young to know their passions — they hardly know who they are yet, how can they know what they are passionate about? — the more popular school of thought is that encouraging teens to begin finding their passion can actually have significant benefits to their behavior, academic success, motivation, and even their physical health. Parents play a big role in this journey of self-discovery, and by helping your teen find his or her passion you are encouraging a bright and hopeful future.
The Benefits of Passion
Some parents mistakenly think that encouraging their teens to find a passion means pushing them to follow a specific path or choose a career right away. That could not be further from the truth. A real passion is something that is authentic, and can’t be pulled from thin air or through forced participation or badgering.
Providing a gentle, guiding hand while you support your teen’s passion search can help him or her uncover that interest, though. The Search Institute calls the pursuits that bring energy and excitement into our lives “sparks.” These sparks can be in athletics, art, music, even academics, but they are usually easily identifiable. Your teen may enjoy them even if he or she isn’t “good” at them (although aptitude for something is often a key foundation of passion). And you might be surprised at how many teens actually already have an idea of what their passion may be. The Search Institute’s research shows that more than 60 percent of teens can identify their spark as young as age 15.
That study also found some other interesting facts about sparks and passion, including:
- Teens who have a passion are less likely to abuse substances or engage in violent or risky behaviors.
- Passion improves performance in school in all areas; their attendance rates increase and they achieve higher grades. Researchers attribute this to motivation, since teens who have a passion often work hard in school so they can continue participating in their favorite activities.
- Passion provides a sense of purpose and a hope for the future.
Given all of the benefits of finding a spark or a passion, how can parents help their teens along that path?
Providing Space and a Soft Place to Land
Some parents are wary of the idea of encouraging teens to find what “makes them happy,” fearing that doing so will set them on the wrong path. However, encouraging purpose-seeking doesn’t mean giving them free reign and removing all boundaries. It really means being supportive, and allowing them to try new things without criticism or interference.
More specifically, some of the things you can do include:
Encouraging your teen to identify his or her strengths. What does he like to do the most? What does she think she is “good at”? What does he want to learn more about? Use this self-reflection as a starting point to find new activities or opportunities.
Considering alternative schooling. Sometimes, behavioral issues arise when teens are not allowed to pursue their passions. If you suspect that could be the case for your teen, consider other schooling options that allow for more exploration and pursuit of a passion. A school with an exceptional fine arts program, for instance, may be a better fit for your talented teen.
Reminding your teen to try new things. The more activities one tries, the easier it is to narrow down which ones are the best fit. Encourage your teen to try several different activities and participate in new opportunities. For most people, finding passion is a process, and there’s no deadline for it. Be supportive of experimentation, and give different things a chance.
Valuing energy over achievement. Many people equate being “the best” with being passionate. However, there are plenty of cases where the best performer isn’t passionate about the activity at all, despite a natural ability or hard work. Remind your teen that they can pursue activities just because they enjoy them, and that they don’t have to be the best at them. Find fulfillment in the process, not the accolades.
Helping your teen find a passion — or even getting him or her on the path to finding it — is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give. Support your kids, and watch them flourish, and most of all, be happy.