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eJOURNAL OF THE INTERNATIONAL CHILD AND YOUTH CARE NETWORK (CYC-Net) – ISSN 1605-7406

ISSUE 30 JULY 2001 •  CONTENTS •  HOME PAGE

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A call to action to strengthen our community for youth

On every continent, whichever the city, communities today are looking for positive ways in which to support and engage with their young people in an increasingly worrying world. Search Institute at the University of Minnesota has been studying developmental assets among Minneapolis youth.

Like most cities, Minneapolis is facing difficult times. While economics, health care, and crime grab the headlines, the most profound crisis facing the city involves the welfare and future of our children and adolescents. Simply put, we are failing to ensure that all young people grow safely and successfully into adulthood. No one denies that young people in our cities face major challenges in growing up. But what do we do about it?

Identifying assets
This study of more than 5,000 students in Minneapolis suggests a new, hopeful direction. It calls for everyone — parents, teachers, city leaders, youth workers, businesses, neighbours, religious leaders, and others — to begin working together to provide young people with the "developmental assets" they need to thrive and be successful in life. Developmental assets are building blocks that all children and adolescents need to grow up competent, caring, and healthy. When present, these assets protect young people from risk-taking behaviours and nurture positive behaviours that are valued by society.

Search Institute has identified and measured 40 of these assets in a survey of 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th grade students in the city’s public schools. The study expands and builds on previous Search Institute surveys of more than 250,000 youth in 450 communities across the country. This report highlights key findings from this study, and gives practical ways in which everyone individually and corporately can take positive action on behalf of young people.

Framework
What do young people need to navigate successfully through childhood and adolescence? Search Institute’s framework of developmental assets identifies a set of 40 of these building blocks that are keys to young people’s healthy development and well-being. The asset framework puts together the factors that either protect youth against choices which compromise health or promote their healthy development. The assets are grouped into two major types:

  • External assets are positive developmental experiences that surround youth with support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and opportunities for structured time use. These assets should be provided by each of many socialising systems in a community.

  • Internal assets involve the strengths, commitments, and values within young people that guide their choices, priorities, and decisions. They are grouped into categories of educational commitment, values, social cornpetencies, and positive identity.

The 40 assets are factors that most people recognise as important for healthy development. However, while each individual asset must be understood and is important, the most powerful message of developmental assets comes in seeing them all together as a framework for healthy development. These assets are cumulative or additive; the more, the better. As the number of assets increases, so does a child’s well-being and vitality.

And it is likely that the assets are powerful in shaping the kinds of adults that young people become.Yet our society seems to have forgotten how to provide these things — or how to nurture them in young people.

The challenge of one city
On average, Minneapolis youth experience only 18.3 of the 40 assets. Twenty-six of the 40 assets are experienced by fewer than half of the Minneapolis students studied.

Thus, far too many young people in our city — and in virtually all towns and cities across the country — are struggling to construct their lives without an adequate foundation upon which to build. A key challenge is to understand young people’s experiences, strengths, and needs, and to discover how to rebuild the developmental foundation so that young people can thrive.

Ideally, a city should ensure that all youth develop 31 or more of the 40 assets. However only 6 percent of Minneapolis students have 31 or more of the 40 assets. Had this study included youth who do not attend school, the picture of assets would probably be even more sombre. Thus the developmental infrastructure is fragile for our city’s youth. As long as this asset profile continues, Minneapolis will see too many youth who are uncentered or unfocused, susceptible to risk taking and negative pressure, drawn to less desirable sources of belonging, and ill-equipped to become the next generation of parents, workers, leaders, and citizens.

Why are we in this situation? A number of social forces could be at work. Among these could be:

  • high levels of parental absence in the lives of children;

  • adult silence about boundaries and values;

  • age segregation and the general disengagement of the public from building meaningful connections with youth;

  • over-exposure to mass media; and

  • barriers (deficits) to healthy development such as poverty, lack of access to programs and services, and families ill-equipped to care for young people.

This combination of factors suggests, among other things, that we are losing our capacity to be a community in which points of caring and connectedness are commonplace, and a sense of shared commitment to and responsibility for children dominates public and private life.

Ideas

Ideas for youth
Form a relationship with a youngster in a youth program or congregation. Take advantage of interesting and challenging opportunities through youth programs, extra-curricular activities, and congregational youth programs. Find chances to build relationships with younger children through service projects, volunteering, tutoring, baby-sitting, and other opportunities. Become a peer helper to build assets in your friends and yourself.

Ideas for all adults
Learn the names of all children and teenagers who live near you. Greet them by name. Build at least one sustained, caring relationship with a child or adolescent either informally or through a mentoring program.

Look at the list of 40 assets at least once a week and commit to at least one act of asset building every day. Volunteer in a school as a tutor, club leader, reader to young students, or other helping roles. Proudly play the role of "elder," passing on the wisdom you have learned from others.

Ideas for families
Eat at least one meal together every day. Limit television watching. Read to or with your children. Provide a positive learning environment in your home. Articulate your values. Encourage active involvement in organisations, teams, and clubs at school, in the community, or in a congregation. Limit the amount of time your children spend at home alone. Be a friend and asset builder for the friends of your children; welcome them into your home.

Ideas for schools
Make it a priority to provide caring environments. Train support staff, teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, and other school staff in their role in asset building. Expand, diversify, and strengthen extra-curricular activities for all youth.

Provide opportunities for staff to share "best practices" for providing support, establishing boundaries, nurturing values, and teaching social skills and competendes. Use schools’ connections to parents to increase parental involvement and to educate parents in asset building.

Ideas for youth organizations
Involve youth in leadership and program planning. Provide a range of structured activities for youth with diverse interests and needs.

Develop expectations and boundaries with youth; enforce appropriate consequences when boundaries are not respected.
Train volunteers, leaders, and coaches in asset building and in young people’s developmental needs.

Support young people’s educational development through tutoring, computer skills, literacy programs, and other forms of academic enrichment.

Ideas for congregations
Intentionally foster inter-generational relationships by providing activities for all ages within the congregation. Listen to what youth say they want. Regularly offer parent education as part of the congregation’s educational programs. Maintain year-round connections with youth. Don’t lose contact over the summer. Involve youth in caring for and teaching younger children. Provide opportunities for youth to be leaders in and contributors to the congregation.

Ideas for neighbourhood groups
Create service projects linking adults and children. Sponsor creative activities and events that help people get to know their neighbours. Co-ordinate residents to provide safe places where young people can go after school if they would be home alone or if they feel unsafe. Organise informal activities (such as pickup basketball) for young people in the neighbourhood. Work with children and teenagers to create a neighbourhood garden, a neighbourhood playground or a park.

Ideas for businesses
Develop family-friendly policies that allow parents to be active in their children’s lives. Provide opportunities for employees to build relationships with youth through mentoring and other volunteer programs, flexible scheduling, and internships for youth.

Be intentional about nurturing assets in the lives of teenagers employed by the company. Provide resources (donations, in-kind contributions, etc.) to youth development programs and to community-wide efforts on behalf of youth.

Ideas for government
Through policy, training, and resource allocations, make asset development a top priority in the city. Initiate community-wide efforts to name shared values and boundaries. Partner with other organisations in creating child-friendly public places, and safe places for teenagers to gather.

Help to co-ordinate and publicise after-school, weekend, and summer opportunities for youth in the city. Build the capacity of community-based organizations to serve children and families.

The 40 developmental assets

Below we list the 40 developmental assets that have been identified as forming a foundation for healthy development in adolescents. (The percentages indicate the number of Minneapolis students who report experiencing each asset in their lives.)

External assets

Support
1. Family support, 63%
2. Positive family communication, 38%
3. Other adult relationships, 37%
4. Caring neighbourhood, 29%
5. Caring school climate, 31%
6. Parent involvement in schooling

Empowerment
7. Community values youth, 21%
8. Youth as resources, 33%
9. Community service, 37%
10. Safety, 32%.

Boundaries and expectations
11. Family boundaries, 36%
12 School boundaries, 38%
13. Neighbourhood boundaries, 39%
14. Adult role models, 45%
15. Positive peer influence, 56%
16. High expectations, 61%

Time use
17. Creative activities, 33%
18. Youth programs, 51%
19. Religious community, 49%
20. Time at home, 45%

Internal assets

Educational commitment
21. Achievement motivation, 64%
22. School performance, 61%
23. Homework, 47%
24. Bonding to school, 50%
25. Reading for pleasure, 26%

Positive values
26. Caring, 51%
}27. Equality and social justice, 56%
28. Integrity, 40%
29. Honesty, 45%
30. Responsibility, 44%
31. Restraint, 36%

Social competencies
32. Planning and decision-making, 45%
33. Interpersonal competence, 46%
34. Cultural competence, 51%
35. Resistance skills, 46%
36. Peaceful conflict resolution, 42%

Positive identity
37. Personal power, 50%
38. Self-esteem, 53%
39. Sense of purpose, 76%
40. Positive view of personal future, 72%

Principles for taking positive action

No challenge is more significant to the future of a city than to increase young people’s experiences of developmental assets. How do we begin to think about doing this? Several principles should guide the efforts:

  • Nearly all children and adolescents need more developmental assets than they now have. While it is crucial to pay special attention to those children who have the least economically or emotionally, the challenge is to reclaim the kind of community-wide attention to positive development that will impact all young people.

  • Asset development begins at birth and needs to be sustained throughout childhood and adolescence. Each stage of development requires persistent attention to meeting young people’s developmental needs.

  • Asset building depends primarily on individuals — parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbours, and many others — building positive relationships with activities of children and teenagers.

  • Building assets also requires a highly consistent community, in which children and teenagers are exposed to clear messages about what is important.

  • Family can and should be the most powerful generator of developmental assets.

  • The assets are more likely to blossom if they are nurtured simultaneously by families, schools, youth organisations, neighbourhoods, religious institutions, health care providers, and in the informal settings in which adults and youth interact.

  • Because asset development necessitates relational, consistent, and redundant communities, all residents have a role to play.

Children Youth and Family Consortium Electronic Clearinghouse
Permission is granted to create and distribute copies of this document for non-commercial purposes provided that the author (Search Institute, University of Minnesota) and CYFCEC receive acknowledgement and this notice is included. Contact telephone (612) 626-1212 e-mail: cyfcec@maroon.tc.umn.edu