Commentary: Youth can get high…naturally

Megan Albanese, STEPS Coalition outreach manager

Let’s teach our youth to be high…naturally.

There is no one way to teach youth about substance abuse prevention. There are many facets with the ultimate goal being to delay the age of onset and prevent drug abuse. One way to do this is to build up the protective factors in our youth. Find what ignites their interests, beliefs and passion and help them thrive. Find what makes them spark.

The Search Institute has developed a concept called “sparks.” Sparks are the interests and passions that young people have within them, the sparks that light fires in their lives, express the essence of who they are, and announce what they have to offer to the world. Sparks promote healthy, positive development and contribute to psychological well-being and resilience.

Students with sparks engage in fewer risk-taking behaviors than other students, such as substance use or violence or unsafe sexual behaviors. Overall, they are less depressed, less worried, and more satisfied with their lives than their classmates. Young people with deep interests and support from their family, friends, school, and community in the development of those passions have more interpersonal communication skills and friend-making skills, more empathy and understanding of others’ feelings, and a better ability to work in teams.

You may notice that the word “spark” is synonymous with “asset,” something commonly talked about by the STEPS Coalition and our Asset Building Classrooms initiative that is a partnership with the Southington Public School system. When sparks, or assets, are cultivated and richly developed, youth learn to enjoy natural highs instead of turning to drugs and alcohol.


Here are six ways that we can teach youth to find their spark:

  • Ask the young people in your life the top five things they are passionate about. Then help them research ways to get more involved in these passions.
  • Teach them about goal setting and how small steps can lead to big results.
  • Check in with them on a regular basis and ask them for updates. They will appreciate your interest and will enjoy talking about the positive things they are involved with in the community.
  • Tell them often that you believe in them. Show your support.
  • Encourage youth to embrace their peers and help them find positive outlets as well. The more positive peers they have surrounding them, the more chance they have to continue making great choices.
  • Teach resilience. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

While you are off helping young people find their spark, why not look for your own spark, too? For more information on the Southington STEPS Coalition and the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Asset Model, visit

Megan Albanese is the Southington STEPS Coalition outreach coordinator. She can be reached at (860) 276-6281 or