Ambitious, Purposeful Kids (In An Increasingly Chaotic World)

Ambitious, Purposeful Kids (In An Increasingly Chaotic World)

Ambitious, Purposeful Kids (In An Increasingly Chaotic World)

The planet is currently in the throes of a pandemic. What can kids do? How can parents help children and teens aspire toward—and fulfil—realistic ambitions? Here are some ideas, and 10 practical points.


“The moment we decide to fulfil something, we can do anything.”

“You are never too small to make a difference.” 

~ Greta Thunberg, Teenager and Activist

Some kids are fervent goal-setters and determined go-getters. They set out to get things done. They are fueled by passion, driven by resolve, and they often take others along for the drive. This is good because in today’s world there are many issues, controversies, and situations that cry out for address. As I write this, the coronavirus (COVID-19) is wreaking havoc around the globe. Every day the impact of this health epidemic becomes more devastating. When situations threaten public safety, people look to leaders for reassurances, and for practical ways to deal with new, changing, and frightening realities. 

Young people can also be pivotal and contribute to forward momentum.

Accomplishment, creative problem-solving, enthusiasm, and leadership can take different forms. Children and teens can make a difference by being purposeful and innovative, and by becoming advocates for positive change. It may have to do with climate change, homelessness, pollution, educational reform, bullying, or other serious concerns. For example, click here for an account of Avi Schiffmann, a 17 year-old boy who has developed a means of using web scraping technology to report on the current COVID-19 outbreak, with minute-by-minute updates—thereby keeping people informed worldwide. Anyone, including kids, can be ambitious and aspire to take the lead or contribute toward engagement, collective triumph, personal verve, and progress. 


One child, one teacher, one book, one pen, can make a difference.

Don’t be afraid. If you are afraid you can’t move forward.” 

~ Malala Yousafzai, Teenage Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 

More and more it seems, young people are seizing reins of responsibility—showing that they have the wherewithal to be proactive and competent, realizing progress and attaining success. In towns, large cities, online networks, and all around the world, children and teens are mustering momentum, and exponentially gaining voice and vigor. And, at the same time, helping to improve the way we live or understand the human experience. 

Psychologist and author Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell writes about today’s children and teens who are destined to become “tomorrow’s changemakers.” She discusses the importance of core attributes that kids need if they are to become strong, caring, and successful individuals. Price-Mitchell’s “Compass Advantage” framework emphasizes eight points: resilience, empathy, curiosity, sociability, resourcefulness, creativity, integrity, and self-awareness. (See the “Compass Advantage Interactive Graphic” and accompanying resource material on the Roots of Action website.)

It is vital that parents and teachers help children develop, uphold, and demonstrate these attributes, and inspire and support their development among others.  


“Parents have to figure out when to let children fire up their own competencies, and when they might benefit from some assistance or reinforcement.” ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 76

What can children and teens do to fortify their own ambitions and become stronger in the process? Here are some starting points:

  • Proactively engage in character education curriculum in school. 
  • Build positive relationships, participate in youth programs, collaborate with others, and share ideas and solutions to problems. 
  • Be focused.
  • Retain commitment to the greater good. 
  • Don't take any acquired leadership position you might have for granted, but rather continue to work hard to earn it. 
  • Keep learning—from the experiences of others, from questions and dialogue, and from a variety of sources. President John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” 
  • Be openminded. A leader can be a young person in the throes of development—sharing a spotlight or a load—and still be a compelling leader. For example, eleven year-old Jahkil Jackson started an organization to feed the hungry. High-school student Kyla Guru developed a cyber security education program to help people stay safe online. Fifteen year-old Meagan Warren launched an organization called “Books for Bedtime” that has donated tens of thousands of books to children. Parkland student activists continue to raise consciousness about gun violence as their youth movement speaks out for safety in schools. And, these are just a few examples of ambitious young people who are spearheading positive change.


Our personal journeys contribute to—and also define who we are and what we do in life. Abilities, and all the things that we know, are like passports to new and wondrous places we encounter.” ~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 72

A strong, ambitious showing is not just about outcomes. It’s also about what happens along the way. What sustains ambition? Here are 10 points: 

  • Purpose – Purpose provides impetus to ambition. Noted researcher and psychologist Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman explains that purpose is modifiable over time, and as people gain experience and knowledge. He also points to “a growing literature showing the many benefits of maintaining a purpose in life for health and well-being.” (See more here.) 
  • Perseverance – An ambitious person has to have the yearning, courage, commitment, and stamina to keep going. This means knowing how to establish short, medium, or long-term goals, and how to plan ahead in order to reach them. 
  • Pacing – Take-charge individuals have to strategically figure out how to share their journey, and how to proceed in a manner that is manageable. This includes being resilient when encountering obstacles. 
  • Self-preservation – When situations (like COVID-19) threaten the health and welfare of children and their families, it can be a persuasive call to action. A cause can galvanize people of all ages, fortifying purpose and ambition. 
  • Individualism – It is worth noting that a great many children and teens experience comfort, camaraderie, meaningful contributions, gratification, and ample learning opportunities without having to be “top of the heap” or front-runners. And, that is their prerogative. Life is not really a race or a competition. It’s a personal journey, and there’s inevitably some way to invest oneself in positive engagement.
  • Family bonds and dynamics – The manner in which a child is raised and supported is formative. Family can nurture core attributes and help kids develop their strengths (and bolster their areas of weakness).  
  • Life balance – There’s a middle ground between extending one’s frontiers too vigorously or too gingerly. Being relaxed can be pleasant but not overly productive. Pressing hard can be productive but exhausting. Parents can help children find a happy mix, incorporating time for play, recreation, and reflection as well as action.  
  • Cooperation – It’s admirable when kids show ambition, aspire toward goals, and want to be change agents. However, they should be encouraged to share their ideas, understandings, and abilities—and to do so in ways that don’t eclipse others. Children and teens can be role models by collaborating and by setting good examples, which in turn can stimulate ambition. Theologian Albert Schweitzer wisely said, “Example is leadership.” 
  • Creativity – Problem-solving and resolutions (whether these relate to managing critical concerns or not) often require fresh perspectives and creative ideas. This involves being willing to try imaginative approaches, take new routings, and be a maverick. Creativity is a potent elixir for progress, and it can be a strong motivator. (Click here for creativity-related resources [at The Creativity Post].) 
  • Initiative – That first step is key. It’s each child’s personal choice where or when to put forth energy, how many steps to take, how hard to strive, what resources to consult, who to collaborate or align with, and whether perhaps to become a leader.  

The world is in a state of chaos. Today is as good a day as any to encourage kids to harness as much purpose and ambition as feels right. Help them understand and get started on whatever forward momentum they can manage, and continue to support their efforts along the way!


Joanne Foster’s most recent book is ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child.  Readers can find further information about optimal child development by checking out Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster.) Dr. Foster also wrote Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (recipient of the Independent Book Publishers’ Association’s 2018 Silver Benjamin Franklin Award), and its predecessor Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. To learn more about these books, and for access to a wide range of articles and links, please go to Information about professional development workshops and speaker sessions with Dr. Foster can also be found at this website. Her Instagram account is @fosteringkidssuccess

For excellent resources on supporting and encouraging creativity and gifted/high-level development see the assortment of material at Gifted Unlimited LLC

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