Sparks and Thriving

Search Institute has conducted extensive research on why some young people thrive, while others just “get by.” Many factors play a role, but a key dimension is what we call “sparks.” Below are the key research publications from this work.

This work builds on Search Institute’s research on Developmental Assets and is incorporated into our work on developmental relationships and student motivation.

Research Briefs, Reports, and Books


Finding the Student Spark: Missed Opportunities in School Engagement, Peter C. Scales

Download the complete brief

Download a one-page summary

Teen Voice 2010: Relationships that Matter to America’s 15-Year-Olds, Peter C. Scales, Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, and Peter L. Benson

Download the summary report

Download the detailed report


Teen voice 2009: The untapped strengths of 15-year-olds, Peter C. Scales, Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, & Peter L. Benson


Sparks: How parents can help ignite the hidden strengths of teenagers. Peter L. Benson

Peer-Reviewed Articles and Chapters

NOTE: Many of the periodicals listed here may be downloaded or purchased through links provided. Journal articles and book chapters are available through their publishers. Most can be accessed through databases or through the publisher’s websites (often with a fee).

Scales, P. C., Benson, P. L., Oesterle, S., Hill, K., Hawkins, J.D., & Pashak, T. J. (2016). The dimensions of successful young adult development: A conceptual and measurement framework. Applied Developmental Science, 20 (3), 150-174. doiI:10.1080/10888691.2015.1082429.

Ben-Eliyahu, A., Rhodes, J.E., & Scales, P.C. (2014). The interest-driven pursuits of 15-year-olds: “Sparks” and their association with caring relationships and developmental outcomes. Applied Developmental Science, 18, 76-89. doi: 10.1080/10888691.2014.894414

Benson, P. L., & Scales, P. C. (2011). Thriving and sparks. In R. J. R. Levesque (Ed.), Encyclopedia of adolescence (pp. 2963–2976). New York: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4419-1695-2

Scales, P. C., Benson, P. L., & Roehlkepartain, E. C. (2010). Adolescent thriving: The role of sparks, relationships, and empowerment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(3), 263-277. doi: 10.1007/s10964-010-9578-6

Benson, P. L., & Scales, P. C. (2009). The definition and preliminary measurement of thriving in adolescence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(1), 85–104. doi:10.1080/17439760802399240

King, P. E., Dowling, E. M., Mueller, R. A., White, K., Schultz, W., Osborn, P., Dickerson, E., Bobek, D. L., Lerner, R. M., Benson, P. L., & Scales, P. C. (2005). Thriving in adolescence: The voices of youth-serving practitioners, parents, and early and late adolescents. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25(1), 94-112. doi: 10.1177/0272431604272459

Scales, P. C., & Benson, P. L. (2005). Adolescence and thriving. In C. B. Fisher, & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Encyclopedia of applied developmental science: Vol. 1 (pp. 15–19). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. doi: 10.4135/9781412950565

Theokas, C., Almerigi, J., Lerner, R.M., Dowling, E.M., Benson, P.L., Scales, P.C., & von Eye, A. (2005). Conceptualizing and modeling individual and ecological asset components of thriving in early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25(1), 113-143.

Scales, P. C., Benson, P. L., Leffert, N., & Blyth, D. A. (2000). The contribution of developmental assets to the prediction of thriving among adolescents. Applied Developmental Science, 4, 27–46. doi: 10.1207/S1532480XADS0401_3