Teen Research Trending: Sparks, Caring Relationships, and Developmental Outcomes for Youth

Ben-Eliyahu, A. & Rhodes J.E. (2014) “The Interest-Driven Pursuits of 15 Year Olds: “Sparks” and Their Association With Caring Relationships and Developmental Outcomes.” Applied Developmental Science, 18, 2 p. 76-89. DOI: 10.1080/10888691.2014.894414

As a practicing teen librarian, I am interested in research that helps me with my interactions with teens and the ability to convey the importance of teen librarians to my community. This research study examines the characteristics of teens’ deep interests and the role that caring relationships have in supporting the development of those interests. Ben-Eliyahu and Rhodes performed an exploratory study to examine how emerging deep interests related to a variety of characteristics including academic outcomes, demographics, social and emotional.

They defined a deep interest as a “spark” using previous definition that Benson and Scales used which was a “passion for a self-identified interest, skill or capacity that metaphorically lights a fire in the adolescent’s’ life, providing energy, joy, purpose and direction.” (p.76) They recruited participants through a Harris Poll Online and included only fifteen year-olds who resided in the United States. The participants received reward points in a rewards program and offered to enter into a sweepstakes. The surveys were self-administered and included 1,860 participants.

The researchers used a latent class profile analysis to determine groups of the participants based on the seven components of sparks such as joy and energy, lose track of time, purpose and focus, skills for career, getting along with others, improve surroundings, and encourage learning. These broke the participants into three groups: no spark, low spark, moderate spark or high spark.

Ben-Eliyahu et. al. had several interesting conclusions. The youth who identified with a wide range of sparks and high intensity had positive associations with supportive relationships. These relationships had positive outcomes. They stated that youth in the Low Spark group reported that their spark was in computers/electronics than the higher Spark groups and they spent more time online. They also reported that the Low Spark group spent more time pursuing interests related to studying, reading or learning. They suggested that these were more solitary activities. The High Spark group, on the other hand, reported interests such as sports, dance, or serving others which were more social.  The researchers suggested that these social activities lead to a rich context for developing peer and intergenerational relationships. These activities also contributed to greater academic success and increase their energy levels and readiness to learn.

Finally, Ben-Eliyahu et. al. concluded that a young person’s wellbeing is derived through participation in satisfying activities and developmental relationships as well as a connectedness to the activity. They suggested that a range of adults provide key support for developing interest-driven interests. They stated, “Particularly among youth with limited social and cultural capital, caring relationships with non-parental adults appear to provide valuable exposure to and compensatory support for pursuing interest activities and domain.”

I recently had a parent tell me that she loves the variety of programs we offer our tweens and teens so her child can explore a variety of subjects while trying to figure out what he enjoys instead of having to enroll him in a paid camp or program. This research enables me to not only give personal testimony but methodical research that what I am doing can impact the lives our teens in my community.

Amanda Lindsay is the Teen Services Librarian for the Stonecrest Library, a part of the DeKalb County Public Library in Lithonia, Georgia.

 

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