Are youth thriving?

You can make a difference in thriving orientation of youth.

A young person making paper oragami.
A young person enjoying their spark.

Just because youth are happy or successful does not mean they are thriving. Sparks are an essential part in ensuring youth are thriving. So how do we know if a youth is really thriving? The 4-H Thriving Model helps us answer that question.

Every youth (and adult) can have a spark. The spark is a self-identified passion that brings joy, excitement and contentment to that person. 4-H has exposed youth to a variety of project areas, activities and other opportunities that might help light that spark. Today, 4-H reaches a diverse audience of youth in both rural and urban settings. It has only been recently that 4-H has begun using the language around sparks and helping youth thrive.

According to Peter Benson, sparks have the following characteristics:

  • It gives energy and joy.
  • Helps us feel alive and useful.
  • Causes us to lose our sense of time.
  • The spark originates from inside the person. It is not imposed from the outside.
  • The spark can be a skill, talent or interest.
  • It can be a prime source of meaning and purpose in our lives.

When these characteristics are present for a youth, it can give them direction, especially when navigating adolescence. The old saying, “it takes village to raise a child” has never been truer than it is today. It takes nurturing, understanding and compassion to help a youth identity and ignite their spark.  This happens when there are caring adults present for youth.

Through the Positive Youth Development (PYD) theory and Michigan 4-H, Michigan State University Extension staff and volunteers are working to help youth identify their spark and thrive. According to the 4-H Program Leaders Working Group Standing Committee on Positive Youth Development, indicators that youth are on a thriving orientation include:

  • An openness to challenge and discovery: They enjoy a challenge and like to explore new things!
  • A growth mindset: They embrace new experiences as a growth opportunity and welcome challenges.
  • A hopeful purpose: They have a sense of purpose in life and optimism for the future.
  • A pro-social orientation: They are respectful, honest, responsible, caring and value helping others.
  • Transcendent awareness: They strive to connect with something bigger than themselves.
  • Positive emotionality: They are generally positive and optimistic and can manage their emotions.
  • Intentional self-regulation: They set goals and create effective strategies to achieve them.
  • Goal-setting and management: They set goals and persevere, making adjustments when necessary to achieve those goals.

Adults often do not realize the effect they have on the youth around them. If you are working with youth in any setting, even youth in your own home, look for these indicators in those youth. As you see them, encourage and help those youth grow and learn more about themselves and their spark. You can also use these indicators to help a youth that might be struggling to find their direction. Focus on one at a time and soon that youth will be thriving alongside their peers.

The next time you are around youth, remember these indicators. Ask yourself “are these youth thriving?” Whether the answer is yes or no, think about how you can help the youth where they are in the thriving process. Maybe it is identifying a spark or maybe it is encouraging an identified spark. Wherever that youth is in the process, you can be part of the village to help that youth thrive.

Learn more about the 4-H Thriving Model at the Helping Youth Thrive website.

For more information about joining 4-H, visit the Michigan 4-H website .

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