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Andrew receives frequent questions about gifted-and-talented issues and occasionally responds to them through this FAQ.

Achieving affinity
Question: My high-school-age daughter has no sense of purpose in her life. She says everything is boring and can't seem to identify an affinity with anything. I know she is gifted and has a great deal of potential. How can I help her recognize her affinity?

Previously: A high achiever until after 8th grade, he's now in a slump. What's a parent to do?

Answer: Let me start by defining what affinity means to me. Meeting my affinity in life has become a guiding force and powerful motivator. I believe that purpose and meaning are truly the most powerful aspects for moving beyond basic existence and into a life of thriving fulfillment. Having a purpose, a will to live, a sense of living one's life for something beyond self is the nature of meeting your affinity.

In my Identity Formation Model, I look at how the influences on forming our identity include the construct of affinity. In essence I seek to understand how much of our identity has included the development of a sense of purpose or calling. It is an appropriate way to connect so we learn not to lose sight of something greater than ourselves while we are developing who we are. Each of us has our own affinity to meet.

I have come to know that when a child is not aware of or has not been exposed to her affinity she is missing something crucial to her identity formation. She may be tapping into a fragmented sense of purpose in life and not a complete sense of meaning for her existence. This uncultivated affinity also deprives the child of motivation and a drive to partake in life on a meaningful level.

What you can do as a parent is to create an experience with your child that shows her how to find purpose. A parent can elevate to a higher priority this notion of developing a sense of calling in life. I recall one family's effort to travel every summer with a group that supports children with cancer. For some this may sound cliché. Truly it is not, because most children have never experienced the physical commitment to a calling or purposeful endeavor with their fellow man. Parents need to create these experiences because children will not necessarily find their affinity without our support and opportunity.

A large sense of my experience and awareness of having a purpose in life came from my parents and how they struggled with meaning and purpose. I will never forget when I was a very small child my mother came back from shopping and was rummaging around the house. It turns out she was looking for a coat. While shopping she had met a woman who was in need. That one experience of watching her go out of her way to do this meaningful act with all her heart felt passion and sincerity left me with a lasting impression of true concern for others and their basic well-being. Even as a child, I recognized the deeper meaning. Feelings like these occurring in my childhood still resonate strongly within me today.

Children need modeling and opportunities from the parent starting at an early age. If as a parent you feel you have done that type of modeling for your child then you must trust the process and relationship. Adolescents and young adults do not always show us what we have taught them until much later in life.

You also may not actually have a true reading on your child's experience with her sense of affinity. Many adolescents appear devoid of expression at times. What I have come to know about the adolescent experience is that the knowledge or insight really is inside them. They are not yet able developmentally to integrate or express these deeper inner thoughts. Think of this time in the life of an adolescent as the gestation period for higher level development and integration. Developmentally this takes years.

Remember yourself as a youth and try to recreate where you were with these deeper issues about purpose -- about meeting your affinity. Sometimes as parents we may actually be struggling with the very issues we assess in our children. Ask yourself, have you ever discussed with your child the notions of calling, purpose and meaning in life? If not start there, but do it from the perspective of wanting to share your thoughts on the issues not from assessing what appears to be their lack of concern for such matters.

Our children learn through our struggles and how we handle them. The old saying "do as I say, not as I do" is not relevant here. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a workshop for children on learning how to develop their purpose in life? Helping them see how that calling can unfold. This is akin to developing their spiritual intelligence. If you value this notion of developing a sense of purpose, fulfilling calling or as I call it meeting your affinity. Then decide if you have devoted as much time as you would like to this wondrous and motivating process of meeting your affinity and begin.

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