Sparks: A Gateway to Developmental Relationships


Search Institute has engaged in extensive research on why some young people thrive, and others just "get by." Many factors play a role, but a key dimension is what we call “Sparks.”

What Are Sparks?
“Sparks” is a metaphor that describes a key feature of young people’s motivation and thriving. Sparks refers to the intrinsic interests, talents, and passions that young people have that motivate them to learn, grow, and contribute. Learn more >>

Why Do Sparks Matter?

Young people who know and nurture their sparks are more fully engaged in school and have other positive life outcomes. Here is an example from a 2010 national study by Search Institute of 1,860 15 year olds:

Igniting Sparks through Developmental Relationships

In addition to the internal motivation and initiative, igniting young people’s sparks requires that trusted people in a young person’s life—parents, other family members, teachers, youth workers, peers—recognize and nurture those sparks. However, only about one-third of young people say that three or more adults at school know what their sparks are, and that another one-third of young people say they get no help at all in nurturing their sparks.

This represents a lost opportunity to motivate young people to learn, grow, and contribute. That’s why Search Institute is building on this research on sparks as a cornerstone of its approach to developmental relationships.

More Information and Tools

Igniting Sparks—A curriculum kit for helping young people identify, articulate, and build support for their spark.

Sparks: How parents can help ignite the hidden strengths of teenagers, by Peter L. Benson
Spark Student Motivation: 101 Easy Activities for Cooperative Learning
Research on sparks

Back to Developmental Relationships research overview >>