For 25 years Natural High has been at the forefront of youth drug prevention. We’ve reached millions with our simple message and powerful content, and we’ve expanded our program to incorporate some of the most powerful concepts in prevention.

But the core of our work has always been about helping kids find their Natural High — an interest, an activity, a talent that sparks a feeling that only comes from finding one’s true passion in life.

Little did I know, 25 years ago, that this idea would be supported by one of the most powerful studies ever done on how to help youth thrive.

The first time I heard Search Institute’s Peter Benson’s TED talk I was floored. It was as if he was talking about the work I had been doing for years.

TED Talk - Peter Benson

At the time of his research, Benson observed that our nation’s approach to children was all about deterring them from negative behaviors.

As Wikipedia says — “When [Benson] introduced the developmental assets [approach] in 1989, the predominant approach to youth development was naming youth problems and trying to prevent them.”

So instead he developed the assets approach — focused on building strengths.

Benson’s developmental assets framework became the predominant positive youth development approach in the world, cited more than 17,000 times, and the framework and surveys developed to measure the assets have been used with more than 3 million youths in more than 60 countries. 

In developing his approach, Benson interviewed thousands of kids and tracked them over early childhood to adulthood.

He found that the single most important factor for thriving: what he calls the SPARK. 

Kids that find their spark — another word for their Natural High — are far more likely to lead happy, successful lives. 

I’ve always talked about lighting youth up from the inside out, not the outside in. Kids spend a lot of time being exposed to lectures, to facts, to information on risks…and of course, this is important. But for Benson, the single most important concept was lighting kids up from the inside out.

Watch Peter Benson’s powerful TED talk. It might be the most important twenty-one minutes of your life as a parent.

Why are his findings so important? Why does Peter Benson’s decades of research matter to you?

Because it’s a blueprint for you as parents on how to help your child thrive.

Through Benson’s work, you can identify your child’s spark and help it grow until it becomes the core of who they are and helps them make the right choices in life. It’s simple — and it saves lives.

Benson’s Search Institute has identified over 220 types of spark. A spark, says Benson —

  • 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.

Any of these sound familiar? Maybe you’ve seen your child’s eyes light up when they do a certain activity. Maybe they’re already familiar with what gives them that feeling like no other. Or maybe they’re still looking for that spark.

In his excellent book Sparks: How Parents Can Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers  Benson gives hands-on advice for parents and educators on how to recognize a child’s spark and what to do once you do. 

If you’re feeling inspired by Benson’s work, then why not take these action steps today.

  1. Watch Peter Benson’s TED talk, today.
  2. Talk to your kid tonight about what makes them tick. What’s that activity they love above everything else? If they haven’t found it yet or are shy about articulating it, take the time to go through some of Benson’s examples of Sparks, listed above. If they already know what their Natural High is, take the time to talk about it in a little more detail. Ask them what they love about it. Ask them if they feel they’re getting the support they need to pursue it. Ask them how you can help them.
  3. Check out all the storytellers on NaturalHigh.org today. If you’re loving our program, then refer a friend to Natural High and get them started on our life-changing program.
  4. Order Peter Benson’s book Sparks: How Parents Can Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers  

In our next Natural High essentials post, we’ll go into more detail on more steps you can take to recognize and cultivate your child’s spark. Read the 5 Ways To Help Your Child Find and Cultivate Their Natural High. 

Together we can help our kids find that spark that will change their lives for the better.

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