What constitutes a passion? It’s simple, really. A passion is something – anything – that you discovered, explored, and enjoyed. You enjoyed it so much, in fact, that you decided to dedicate more time and attention to it. And you found that doing so only increased your enthusiasm for it. You hardly notice time passing when you’re doing this thing and, once you stop, you can’t wait to start again.
Why it is worth encouraging your teen to pursue a passion? First, it feels great to find an interest that is exciting, motivating, and fulfilling. It can also help our teens see that there is life beyond school and their academic pursuits. It can build their sense of identity, confidence, and purpose. It might even influence their career choice. Plus, when your teen is engaged in something they’re passionate about, it reduces the likelihood that they will engage in risky behavior like underage drinking and drugs.
It’s important to know, however, that not all passions emerge fully formed. Rather, they develop through our continued engagement with them, beginning with the moment we notice that first spark of interest.
Maybe your child’s passion has been clear from the start. But more likely than not, they will need help finding what interests them. Here are our best tips to help your teen find their passion:
Encourage them to try out lots different of activities – with no strings attached. Trying something new is a great learning experience, even if—especially if—it takes you out of your comfort zone. Talk with your teen about the things they like to do or have wanted to try. When do they feel most engaged and enthusiastic? What do they gravitate towards? What skills and interests have you seen them demonstrate? Look into which activities are available at your school or in your area, and identify two or three that might spark an interest.
Lead by example. Make a practice of trying new things as a family. Attend a concert, play, or dance performance. Go to a poetry reading or an art exhibit. Take a class together: photography, woodworking, yoga, taekwondo. Go on a day hike or an overnight camping trip. Explore foods from other cultures. You can take turns picking the activities. When it’s your turn, don’t be afraid to pick things that might not appeal to your child at first. Who knows what new interest or talent they might discover?
Introduce your child to smart and interesting people. Visit with friends and family who are devoted to their hobbies. Talk with—or arrange for your teen to shadow—people who truly love their work or are experts in their field. Your child will see people’s passions firsthand, learn what these different pursuits require, and potentially gain a mentor in an area that interests them.
Explore online. The internet is a great resource for learning just about anything, often for free. Your teen can watch fascinating TED talks on topics such as brain magic, creative genius, racial justice, and robots. They can learn to code or learn a new language. They can sample the most popular free online courses at leading institutions, including Machine Learning (Stanford), Financial Markets (Yale), and Buddhism and Modern Psychology (Princeton). You might find yourself watching and learning along with them!
Volunteer. Volunteering can help us think beyond ourselves. Instead of asking, “Who am I?” and “What do I love?”, your teen can ask, “What breaks my heart?” and “What can I contribute to the world?” Help your teen identify volunteer opportunities that align with their interests. They’ll gain valuable experience and potentially connect with others who share those interests.
Get a part-time job. Encourage your teen to get a job. (They may need a little push!) Help them weigh the pros and cons of different opportunities. Is there a job out there that would allow them to explore a passion? To learn something about themselves? To gain important life and professional skills? Waiting tables, for instance, will teach them how to serve customers, multitask, remember details, and keep calm under pressure, all of which will serve them well in their future career, whatever that might be.
Whatever new interest or activity your teen explores, you can be there to help them think through the experience. Engaging them in conversation about it will not only encourage them to be reflective. It may also help their passion to grow.