40 Development Assets Your Kids Need

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(The Vancouver Sun, 2002)

Saleema: In a recent conversation with a community health nurse friend of mine about our endless quest to help youth to grow up to be healthy, caring, and responsible (you know, just your average coffee talk!), she reminded me about some research done by the Search Institute. The Search Institute (www.search-institute.org) has identified 40 building blocks of healthy development that can help parents, educators and health care professionals to reach this goal. When combined, these building blocks, or developmental assets, offer a set of requirements for positive child and adolescent development. They show important roles that families, schools, youth organizations and communities play in shaping young people’s lives. I looked into the model and although I’m not sure I agree with it entirely, I think it provides some food for thought. Here’s a summary:

The first 20 developmental assets focus on positive experiences young people have in their interactions with people and institutions in their lives. Known as “External Assets”, they fall into four categories:

Support: Young people need to experience support, care and love from their families, non-parent adults, neighbors, and schools. They also need to communicate openly with their parents, who are actively involved in helping them succeed at school.

Empowerment: Young people need to feel valued by their community. They must be given useful roles in the community and opportunities to contribute to others. For this to occur, they must be safe and feel secure.

Boundaries and Expectations: Young people need to have clear guidelines regarding what is expected of them by their families, schools, neighborhoods. They need to be told when their behavior or activities are unacceptable. Adults and peers around them need to model responsible behavior and encourage them to do well.

Constructive Use of Time: Young people need constructive, enriching opportunities for growth, creating a balance between creative activities (music, theatre or other arts), youth programs (sports, clubs or organizations), religion and free time at home or with friends (two or fewer nights per week).

The other 20 developmental assets, known as “Internal Assets”, involve young people nurturing and developing internal qualities that encourage making wise, compassionate and responsible decisions. They are also divided into four categories:

Commitment to Learning: Young people need to develop a lifelong commitment to education and learning. They need to be motivated to do well in school, be actively engaged in learning, care about their school and read for pleasure on a regular basis.

Positive Values: Young people need to develop strong values that guide their choices. Caring, equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility and restraint (specifically, the belief that it is important not to be sexually active or use alcohol or other drugs) are key.

Social Competencies: In their interactions with others, young people need to learn how to plan ahead and make decisions. They must also develop strong friendship skills, have knowledge of and comfort with people of different racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and learn to resist negative peer pressure.

Positive Identity: Personal power, feelings of control over what happens in life, high self-esteem, and optimism give young people a sense of worth and promise.

Search institute research has found that these developmental assets are powerful influences on the behavior of children of all ages. However, they report that too few youth experience enough of these assets. The average young person surveyed experiences only 18 of the 40 assets, with 62% of youth experiencing fewer than 20 of the assets. The good news, according to the Search Institute, is that everyone can build assets. They encourage all those involved in a child’s life—from another child to a grandparent to a teacher to a caring neighbor—to play a role in shaping a young person’s life into a healthy and responsible one.

So, what do you think? Do you agree that all of these assets are crucial to a young person’s healthy development? Which, if any, assets need to be added to the list? Send us an e-mail at saleema@saleemanoon.com –we’d love to hear your thoughts.