Take the trio of Netflix, computer, and phone, and you have most of your student's interests covered. We certainly don't have the solution to technological distraction. All we know is that it makes it that much more important to encourage kids to choose activities that allow them to develop and experiment with new interests. Our goal is for them to develop as human beings, engaging in the outside world—not just in machines.
According to recent research from Gallup, "Engaged students are 2.5 times more likely to say that they get excellent grades and do well in school, and they are 4.5 times more likely to be hopeful about the future than their actively disengaged peers." To increase that engagement, we've developed a model that we call the i4 framework. Our i4 framework is a structured way for students to spark—and increase—their engagement in areas of interest, by increasing involvement, taking more initiative, and measuring the impact.
For younger students who haven't yet identified a specific are of interest, we've been inspired by the authors of Designing Your Life, who encourage experiments: trying new activities, community service, jobs, or other extracurricular opportunities.
Less traditional activities—like building a computer, designing and creating clothing, writing original music or fiction, or researching and sharing strategies to protect the bee population—are great ways to demonstrate a student's unique skills, talents, and interests. With a growth mindset, your student should be able to try new things without feeling discouraged. Of course, if after giving it a try, your student realizes an activity is not for them, they should take that information into account and try something different. It's this type of experimenting in the first few years of high school that will eventually help your student narrow their interests.
Once a student finds something that truly interests them, they can deepen their involvement. One way to do this is by what Designing Your Life authors call learning to ask for directions: Students must learn to ask for help and utilize mentors when figuring out how they might take an interest to the next level.
For example, if your student has developed an interest in beekeeping, she might research local biologists studying bees, write an email to one asking some questions, and perhaps even ask if a research internship is available. Becoming a self-advocate and knowing who to ask for help is a critical life skill, and it will help students experiment more and engage more deeply with their interests.
Of course, it's up to you to help your student experiment and engage. Here are a few things you might do.
6 Ways To Help Your Teen Experiment With Different Activities
Take notice of interests. Your student might be interested in something that they don't realize can be pursued further. A nudge in the right direction is always helpful.
Help them make connections. You have a wider network than your student, so do what you can to help them make connections. Connect them to relatives, neighbors, employers, and local community experts, and encourage them to connect with their teachers, coaches, and other mentors.
Show enthusiasm. The most important thing is that your student pursues activities they're interested in, so even if it's not what you would have chosen, be enthusiastic so they're encouraged to pursue it further.
Coach them through communications. Your student is still learning how to write professional emails and make professional phone calls, so be sure to serve as a resource for them.
Allow the process to evolve. The decisions your student makes at the beginning of the process might change as they experiment. Respect and encourage that kind of questioning so they don't end up pigeonholing themselves.
Have appropriate expectations. Expect some meandering, and remember—your student is a teenager, and things might not always turn out how you originally hoped.
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How Student Involvement Can Develop During the High School Years