What is purpose and how does it change as kids grow?
Many developmental psychologists view having a purpose in life as a vital indicator that a young person is thriving. Having a purpose helps young people organize their life and guides future planning. It can assist youth in regulating current behavior and inform short-term goals. Purpose is more than mere goal setting.
William Damon, who has studied purpose in adolescence, defines purpose as “a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of consequence to the world beyond-the-self.”
Purpose, then, has three dimensions: an intention that is stable and future-oriented, an active and meaningful engagement with realizing that intention, and a motivation to connect with and contribute to something beyond the self.
In this study of purpose sponsored by the Thrive Foundation for Youth, Heather Malin and her colleagues, under the direction of William Damon at the Stanford Center on Adolescence, interviewed 150 adolescents from sixth graders to college juniors.
They discovered differences in purpose between the age groups.
- In middle school, youth desired to be empathic.
- High-school-aged youth focused on finding a role to engage their purpose.
- College students focused on developing pathways to support their purpose.
For all groups, factors such as life transitions, where youth were in the process of identity formation, and external supports and influences, impacted purpose.
The 5 Promises
The 5 Promises represent conditions children need to achieve adult success. The collective work of the Alliance involves keeping these promises to America’s youth. This article relates to the promises highlighted below: