What happens if you have a kid who is just floundering in his life? Or maybe your child does everything you suggest: he plays hockey, joins the newspaper club and does okay in school. Which kid is finding life purposeful? Which kid will eventually find a direction that makes his life meaningful?

On Saturday, we were lucky enough to have one of the leading scholars on adolescent development speak at the 2nd Annual Conference on Adolescence on the campus of Mount Saint Mary College. Dr. William Damon, who is a Stanford University professor and researcher, talked about how young people find purpose in their lives.

According to Damon, purpose is what makes life meaningful. It is necessary in everyone’s life and especially important for youth. Apparently kids with purpose don’t look for trouble. They don’t need classes on drugs. Their sense of belief in themselves provides the basis for good mental health.

Kids fall into four groups

His team’s current research shows that there are four distinctive groups of kids relative to having purpose in their lives

  1. 25% are disengaged. They have no purpose nor do they dream of developing it.
  2. 24% are dreamers. They have ideas about purpose in their lives, but they are not sure how to move forward.
  3. 31% are dabblers. They are doing all that everyone tells them to do, but they find that nothing seems to have purpose for them. There is nothing they want to stick to.
  4. 20% have purpose. They have goals and are willing to prepare to move forward towards those goals.

To me the one shocking statistic is, that according to Damon’s study, the percentages of kids in each category remains consistent across socio-economic groups. So whether kids are members of an upwardly mobile household or part of a family that is just hanging on, 20% of those kids will have a defined purpose to their life…something they want to strive for and 25% are just floundering.

Part II of Helping our kids find purpose in their lives will discuss how parents can make a difference.  

For more information on help kids find purpose in their lives read Dr. William Damon’s book The Path to Purpose.