Helping Your Kids Find Purpose And Passion- Expert Advice From Stanford University Professor William Damon

Bill Damon was a mediocre student drifting through life.

Until the day he told his junior high teacher that he hadn’t worked hard on an assignment because it didn’t really matter.

The teacher responded, “EVERYTHING YOU DO IN LIFE MATTERS!!” He wouldn’t let Damon turn in mediocre work. Now Damon is a professor at Stanford University and a national expert on nurturing purpose, passion and ethics in our youth. At a recent program sponsored by the Family Awareness Network, Glencoe Parents Association and Make It Better, he offered these recommendations:

  • Communicate that everything your child does matters.
  • Watch for their spark of interest.  Every child has at least one.
  • Nurture a positive outlook.
  • Provide knowledge and social capital – help your child find the information or resources that he or she needs to pursue an interest.

Damon cited examples of ordinary kids – not athletic or artistic prodigies – who accomplish extraordinary things because they were allowed to follow an interest where it led them. For example, a young boy heard that some children in Africa spent most of their days carrying water because their towns had no wells. So he saved his allowance and did a little fundraising to pay for one well. This felt so good that he started a foundation which now funds many wells a year. He is an otherwise normal 14-year old boy, but the passion he feels for the well project carries into the rest of his life too.

You want that for your child. Right?  I certainly want it for mine.

Unfortunately, it’s not something that parents can make happen.  We can’t buy it for our kids and we can’t push them into the perfect activity to grow that passion.

According to Damon, often parents aren’t even the adults who provide the initial nudge toward authentic purpose and passion. It could come from a teacher, coach or other adult mentor. Frequently the initial interest is sparked by a relatively small event– a passing comment or simple activity.

However, parents can still do a lot to nurture passion and purpose, including the 4 points at the start of this article. In short, parents can and should be supportive of interests and activities their child wishes to pursue, without being judgmental about the expressed interest. Parents should be their child’s biggest cheerleader, love them unconditionally and facilitate, but not force, their interests.

Here’s some great parenting information from other FAN talks:

The Most Effective Homework: Insight and Ideas from an Expert

Howard Gardner: Creating Ethical and Healthier Minds

To learn more, try these books by William Damon:

The Path to Purpose: How Young People Find Their Calling in Life

Moral Child: Nurturing Children’s Natural Moral Growth

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