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How to help your teen find purpose

This has been such a sad time in our country. School shootings seem to be the norm and we are asking ourselves, what can we do? I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal that really resonated with me. I believe the author is on to something. Clare Ansberry writes, "Teens with a sense of purpose do better in school, are more resilient and healthier. They are also the minority." She says, "about 20% of teens are considered purposeful, which means they have identified something that really matters to them and are doing something about it." Students that are purposeful find ways to serve others. Whether that means volunteering at a local food bank, shoveling the walk for an elderly neighbor or simply being helpful in their home. Dr. William Daron, director of the Center of Adolescence at Stanford University and author of "The Path to Purpose: How Young People find their calling in Life," states, "Developing a sense of purpose is one of the most important but overlooked aspects of adolescent development."

As parents, how do we help our children find purpose? "No two people have the same purpose," Dr. Damon says, and purpose can evolve through life depending on new life experiences. What each had in common, though, was a parent, teacher or friend, as a role model. Are you modeling to your child what it means to lead a purposeful life? Talk with your children and find ways that you as a family can serve your community and others. Support your children in efforts that they show interest in and allows them to give back. Often teens don't think about purpose until they have to apply to college and write an essay, says Kendall Bronk, a developmental psychologist at Claremont Graduate University and head of the Adolescent Moral Development lab. She wants to change that and has developed online tool kits, The Fostering Purpose Project, with three 15-minute activities to be completed on three different days, to help teens think about their strengths, their values, and how they can use their skills to practice those values. In one exercise, they send emails to five adults outside the family-coaches, teachers, employers-and ask them to take 5 minutes or less to describe what the teen is particularly good at. "Trusted adults in their lives can help them think things through," she says. They watch a short video of comedian and television host Jimmy Fallon, who learned at a young age he wanted to make people laugh.

Colleges are looking for students with a strong sense of purpose and what they can offer to a particular campus. But more importantly, as parents, it is our duty to raise children that have compassion, empathy and the will to put others needs before their own. It is when you serve others that you find purpose.

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