Title: Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers
Author: Peter L. Benson, Ph.D.
Published By: Jossey-Bass, 2008
Book Specs: 221 pages
Book Category: Non-Fiction, Parenting
It isn’t easy being the parent of a teenager in today’s society so parents need to use every tool they have to help their teenagers be happy, productive and positive members of their community. The approach described in the book focuses on helping parents to identify, nourish and encourage their teenager’s “sparks.” According to the author, a spark:
- gives energy and joy
- provides the feeling of being alive, useful and purposeful
- is absorbing to the point that you “lose yourself in the moment
- originates from inside a person
- is a skill, talent, interest or gift
- is a person’s prime source of meaning, self-directed action and purpose
- has the potential to make the world a better place for others.
Some specific examples of sparks include: music, art, writing, dance, crafts, building, design, leadership, entrepreneurship, sports, athletics, learning, teaching, relationships, volunteering, nature, animals, computers, comedy, speech, spirituality, drama, photography, film, being committed to living in a specific way, reading, advocacy, family, outdoor life, journalism, engineering, and solving social problems.
The book offers five steps for igniting and encouraging your teen’s sparks:
- Recognize the power of sparks
- Know your own teenager
- Help discover and reveal your teen’s sparks
- Be the captain of your teen’s spark team
- Keep your teen’s spark lit.
The book is packed with quizzes, lists, tips, interviews, statistics and quotes to illustrate the author’s five steps and help parents implement them successfully. The book also includes an extensive list of resources, books, websites, films, videos, organizations and studies to help support parents and their teens in the spark development process.
The ideas in this book made a lot of sense to me. It seems like a “no brainer” that encouraging your teenager to discover, nourish and fulfill what drives them would result in a more positive and productive person. The approach advocated in the book is non-judgmental, positive and encouraging. It is not about trying to discipline your teen; rather, it is about helping your teen find a way to contribute positively in the world by doing what they LOVE to do. Really, everyone — regardless of age — would be better off by identifying, developing and nourishing their own sparks.
The author provides research and statistics to back-up his recommendations, but I didn’t really feel this made any real difference to me. What he says just makes sense. I really wish that every parent could get a copy of this book to help them in the difficult teenage years. I can’t see why this book wouldn’t be helpful to any parent or person working with teenagers.
The other thing I liked was that the author provides lots of quizzes to help parents and teens discover their spark. In addition, there are tons of examples of potential sparks — surely everyone could find at least ONE spark using the lists in the book. There is also a list of 40 developmental assets that kids need to succeed. Even if parents just read this part of the book, it would help tremendously.
Although the book can seem a bit repetitive at times, it is full of practical and useful information to help parents and teens throughout the five step process. I would recommend the book to anyone who works with, lives with or teaches teenagers — as well as teenagers themselves. In fact, I would recommend this book to anyone who needs a little help in figuring out their “purpose” in life!
About the Author
Peter L. Benson, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Search Institute, is one of the world’s leading authorities on positive human development. He weaves together rigorous scholarship with a passionate commitment to understanding—and influencing—society to be more attentive to children and adolescents. His insight, vision, and passion have made him a widely sought speaker, writer, and consultant for major national and international events, organizations, and policy initiatives. Dr. Benson is the author or editor of more than a dozen books on child and adolescent development and social change.
For More Information
At this site, you can learn more about the book and download a book discussion guide, conversation starters, ideas for sparks in schools, the book’s introduction and table of contents.