I’m Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell, author of Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation and founder of Roots of Action, a blog and website that applies the research on positive youth development for families, schools, and communities.
I don’t think today’s kids need to be fixed. They need to be seen, heard, and understood. Adults must lead by creating positive relationships and opportunities that help youth thrive.
I began and shaped a successful career in the corporate world—a long time ago!
As an organization development specialist for a Fortune 500 company, I coached and trained supervisors and executives in strategic planning, conflict resolution, problem-solving, and human relations skills.
I loved my work. Yet something troubled me. I saw young people entering the workforce with a lack of key abilities needed to succeed in their careers—abilities like resilience, curiosity, empathy, and self-awareness. I wondered, “Shouldn’t these abilities have been developed during childhood and adolescence?”
Then I became a mother.
I learned firsthand the pressures that kids face today—the desire to achieve, belong, and get accepted to college. I got caught up in the race that kids (and parents) feel to achieve traditional measures of success. Despite my daughter’s learning differences, I wanted her to have meaningful friendships and opportunities. And, of course, I wanted her to achieve her college dreams.
I worked very hard to help my daughter overcome challenges in whatever ways I knew how. Many experts diagnosed her learning and attention deficits and suggested ways to correct them. Yet I silently wondered, “Why isn’t it okay for her to be who she is?” She was bright and determined. I believed in her wholeheartedly.
One day, it occurred to me that success for kids had to be measured by more than grades. I was reminded of all those young employees I had encountered in the corporate world. Something was missing in their early developmental experiences. What?
The answers were ahead of me a few more years.
I still had lots of learning to do. I co-founded ParentNet® at my daughter’s school when she was in eighth grade. Using training methods successful with business leaders, we structured opportunities for parents and school liaisons to come together at grade levels to talk about healthy child development. We learned from each other—not how to fix our kids, but how to become supportive parents.
What started in my daughter’s grade quickly spread by word of mouth to the whole school, then to more than forty schools across the U.S. For the next fifteen years, I co-trained more than 1,000 parent leaders to facilitate ParentNet® in their schools, developed resources, and helped launch a nonprofit organization to support its mission.
Mostly, I got to hang out with and learn from awesome parents and educators who cared deeply about kids and believed that families, schools, and communities must partner in the positive development of youth.
What came next took me by surprise.
I discovered a passion for supporting youth beyond traditional measures of success. But with so many notions of what kids really needed, I decided to return to graduate school to discover answers for myself.
As my daughter started her first year of law school, I began a doctorate in human development. The nonprofit I had co-founded got a new home as the Washington State Family and Community Engagement Trust and a new generation of leaders.
I completed my Ph.D. with a research focus on how we nurture the development of tomorrow’s engaged citizens. Since graduation, as a Fellow at the Institute for Social Innovation at Fielding Graduate University, I’ve continued synthesizing research in child and adolescent development, education, and neuroscience to discover ways families, schools, and communities help kids grow to become caring family members, innovative workers, ethical leaders, and active members of civil society.
While there are myriads of ways parents and teachers help kids thrive, my research found eight interconnected abilities that every child needs, beyond grades and test scores. These abilities are the roots of successful human development—the foundation of how and why we take positive action in the world.
Not surprisingly, the eight abilities cannot be measured by grades or test scores!
I founded the website RootsOfAction.com in 2011 to spread the word about these core abilities and to help parents and educators more intentionally nurture them in homes, classrooms, and out-of-school-time activities. At the same time, I created The Compass Advantage to provide a common framework and language to talk about healthy development.
Today, more than three million people read my articles each year—focused on building the Compass abilities. I am grateful for the small impact I’m making on behalf of youth. I am also humbled by reader feedback about how the Compass abilities have made a difference in young people’s lives.
A parent from Ohio recently wrote:
“I can tell you that employing The Compass Advantage, and especially modeling on my part, has been the single most asset to my parenting role.
Since the day my parenting coach told me about you, I was able to ENJOY parenting a tween and teen and watch them explode with success – and curiosity and the joy of pursuing knowledge and how their minds ‘popped’ with ideas and dreams. Quite literally, I handed them the tools, and they used them.
Today, at 17 and 21, I have two independent, thoughtful, goal-reaching young ladies. Each one has her own unique strengths – one leads in the business world, and the other devotes herself to non-profits. And they both balance their vocations with their academic goals and objectives.
Now, after all these years, I actually see the results. The single most wonderful benefit is that my daughters developed their own self-driven initiatives and are carrying them into adulthood.
So a grateful THANK YOU!”
Feedback like this is the reason I do this work, and why I will continue for as long as I’m able.
The Compass Advantage is still in its infancy as far as academic frameworks go. It’s being used in a variety of ways in many schools and communities throughout the world. For example, it was implemented in Scottish youthwork, where the model was foundational to a three-year research study. It is a core component to teaching teenage athletics in the Middle East how to nurture these abilities in the elementary-school-age children they mentor. The compass abilities are being fostered in an after-school program for Hispanic children in Atlanta, most of whom are living in poverty.
In 2019, I developed The Compass Survey of Core Human Attributes, free online surveys for youth and adults. The surveys have been taken by thousands of youth and adults, the results of which help people identify, understand, and strengthen core internal abilities that help them thrive throughout life.
I continue to be actively involved in writing and research, including how the compass attributes grow from youth through older age. As I enter my own older years, I am applying my research, knowledge, and experience in the field of positive psychology to the process of becoming an elder and what is involved in a well-lived life.
That’s my story – so far!