Advocacy and Education

The 4 S’s: How to Connect for Stronger Relationships

4 S's How to Connect for Better Relationships with Youth

When you Google the 4 S’s, you’ll find a handful of results, all providing tools to help navigate different development focus areas. At Youth Horizons, we focus on those principles and tools that contribute to the well-being and success of young people, as developed by the Search Institute. These principles, known as the 4 S’s – Sparks, Strengths, Struggles and Supports – provide a comprehensive framework to guide parents, educators, and communities in nurturing, empowering, and connecting with the next generation. Understanding and implementing the 4 S’s is proven to foster a positive environment that promotes growth, resilience, and achievement in young individuals. Imagine the possibilities if parents, educators, and communities bond together and apply these principles in a coordinated effort. Dare we imagine a holistic developmental approach for all kids and youth in our community? In our world?

Let’s take a closer look at the 4 S’s, what they mean, and how they contribute to the development of our kids and young people.

1. Sparks

Definition: A “spark” is a passion, interest, or talent that excites a young person, giving their life purpose, direction, and energy.


  • Motivation and Engagement: When young people identify and pursue their sparks, they become more motivated and engaged in both academic and extracurricular activities.
  • Self-Discovery: Sparks allow young people to explore their interests and potential, leading to a deeper understanding of themselves.
  • Resilience: Pursuing a passion can provide a sense of purpose and a positive outlet, helping young people cope with stress and adversity.
  • Future Aspirations: Identifying a spark can shape future career goals and aspirations, guiding educational and professional paths.

2. Strengths

Definition: Strengths are the positive qualities, skills, and attributes that young people possess, which can be developed and leveraged to achieve success.


  • Self-Esteem and Confidence: Recognizing and developing their strengths helps young people build self-esteem and confidence.
  • Competence and Achievement: Focusing on strengths enables young people to excel in areas where they have natural abilities, leading to a sense of accomplishment.
  • Positive Identity: Acknowledging their strengths helps young people form a positive self-identity and a sense of belonging.
  • Growth Mindset: Emphasizing strengths fosters a growth mindset, encouraging continuous learning and improvement.

3. Struggles

Definition: Struggles refer to the challenges and obstacles young people face.


  • Resilience: Facing struggles builds resilience and coping skills in young people.
  • Growth: Learning how to overcome daily and longer-term challenges leads to personal growth.
  • Problem-Solving: Encouraging the development of problem-solving abilities among our children will help build resiliency and confidence as they age.

4. Supports

Definition: Support refers to the network of caring, trusting relationships with family members, peers, educators, and mentors that provide guidance, encouragement, and a sense of security.


  • Emotional Safety: A strong support system creates a safe environment where young people feel valued and understood.
  • Guidance and Mentorship: Supportive relationships provide guidance and mentorship, helping young people navigate challenges and make informed decisions.
  • Social Skills: Interaction within a supportive network enhances social skills, communication, and empathy.
  • Resilience and Coping: Support systems offer a buffer against stress and adversity, fostering resilience and effective coping strategies.

Why They Matter

The 4 S’s – Spark, Strengths, Struggles and Supports – offer a framework for creating connections and promoting the holistic development of young people. By fostering passions, recognizing strengths and struggles, and building supportive relationships, parents, educators, and communities can join together to create an environment where young people thrive. Embracing the 4 S’s as a communications framework not only benefits our kids but also contributes to a more compassionate, resilient, and engaged society as they grow and enter our communities as young adults.

Stay tuned for our coming article that provides practical, hands-on 4 S’s interview questions designed to help you interact and connect with youth in our community. Be the champion they deserve!