Expand Interests is a young person’s experience with an adult who supports them to try new things, broaden their horizons, learn about other people’s cultures and perspectives, and explore their own identities.

Expanding interests involves exposing young people to new ideas, experiences, and places.


Expanding a young person’s interests and possibilities has been shown to increase school engagement and high school graduation rates, promote healthy behaviors, decrease risky behaviors and increase overall satisfaction with life (Search Institute 2020). Young people with expanded interests understand multiple points of view, develop a greater sense of contribution and have strong positive identity (Benson, P.L. 2006; Scales, P.C., et al., 2011).


Young people are dynamic and full of promise, with many different pathways to success. Every year Hello Insight mines our growing dataset of more than 125,000 young people, participating in more than 1,500 programs nation-wide, so that we can continue to learn what works for each and every young person.

Expanding Interests is a highly predictive experience of the development of SEL across age, gender, and ethnicity. It works best when combined with authentic engagement and promoting peer bonds. Together, these experiences amplify SEL growth.

Download the Reflection Guide


Hello Insight, in collaboration with Youth Inc., created the series Positive Youth Development in Practice, where we share different practical ways to promote Positive Youth Development experiences in young people through examples from other organizations. In this case, watch how our members practice Expanding Interest with young people.


Eight Ideas for Expanding Interests

Search Institute
This short article provides eight tips that can be integrated quickly and easily into any program model.

Guiding Questions:

  • What opportunities can I provide to help young people explore their interests?
  • How can I introduce them to new people and experiences?
  • How can I help young people step out of their comfort zone and try new things?

Sparks and Thriving

Search Intsitute
The Search Institute has done extensive research on interest exploration or “sparks” exploration — the ability to identify passions, work toward them, and garner help along the way. We like this website because it includes decades of research about “spark” and how it promotes the healthy development of young people.

Guiding Questions:

  • What is your spark (i.e., what is something that you are so passionate about that you lose track of time)?
  • What is it about this activity that makes it so important to you?
  • How can I support young people to explore their sparks?

The Road Map: Figure Out Where You’re Going

Roadtrip Nation
This interactive website helps young people explore various interest areas and listen to youth-led interviews with professionals who have similar passions. This is a great resource to help young people see successful adults who are a lot like them. And, learn the various ways in which these interests play out over their lifespan.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can I use this website to help young people identify and explore their passions and interests?
  • In what ways could young people in your program interview adults with similar passions and interests?

Peter Benson: Sparks - How Youth Thrive

This 20-minute TED talk is about the importance of teaching young people how to identify their “sparks” — the ability to identify passions and interests and make them a reality. We like this video because Dr. Peter Benson provides an impassioned argument about why all people need to develop the skills necessary to tap into their excitement and passion.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can I support young people to explore their Sparks?
  • How can I help young people identify Spark Champions or people to support them on their journey?

How to Help Teens Find Purpose

Greater Good Magazine
It is hard to pin down which experiences create a sense of passion and purpose among young people. The author of this study discovered that while everyone has a unique story, there are four commonalities amongst people who discovered a sense of purpose: 1) Traveling abroad; 2) Spending extended time in the natural world; 3) Getting involved in a meaningful social change project; 4) Establishing a contemplative practice.

Guiding Questions:

  • In what ways can I create opportunities for young people to engage in social change projects?
  • Does our program provide opportunities for young people to spend time in the natural environment — even in urban settings?
  • Where can I create opportunities for young people to develop a contemplative practice?

Teens' Penchant For Risk-Taking May Help Them Learn Faster

Usually, the reward-seeking and risk-taking characteristics in teenagers are not looked at as strengths. A recent study shows these behaviors could actually make teens better than adults at certain kinds of learning. We like this article because it talks about the neuroscience behind how teens learn and how we can best meet their needs by providing them with a range of new experiences.

Guiding Questions:

  • How do teenagers learn differently than adults?
  • What makes risk-taking and interest exploration important for teenagers?
  • Are there ways to incorporate positive risk-taking into your program, especially for teens?


Youth Catalytics
Community mapping can be a completely youth-initiated activity which gives young people the opportunity to learn more about their community and expand their understanding of different roles. This activity is well-described in this worksheet.

Guiding Questions:

  • What resources do young people want to explore and map?
  • What sparked their interest and could be further pursued?
  • What new roles have they discovered through the mapping experience?


Stevens Initiative
Community mapping can be a completely youth-initiated activity which gives young people the opportunity to learn more about their community and expand their understanding of different roles. This activity is well-described in this worksheet.

Guiding Questions:

  • What's happening in the rest of the world and how can we learn more?
  • What are universal human traits and what traits are culturally determined?