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The 40 developmental assets

A “list” of developmental qualities which contribute to healthier and more successful youth may seem discouraging when we are working with kids who are already short on “plusses”. But we could look at these qualities as assets to build within our youngsters. Nothing wrong with that ...

Looking for a good investment? It doesn't cost much to get started, and you can expect high yields. No, it won't make you rich, but it can change the lives of kids in your family, neighborhood, school, organization, or community.

We're not talking about financial assets, but developmental assets – the “capital" children and youth need to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. By examining extensive research on the influences in young people's lives, Search Institute* identified 40 developmental assets that form a foundation for healthy development. These are key factors that enhance the health and well-being of young people.

What's more, after surveying more than 250,000 6th to 12th graders, we have research to suggest that the assets make a difference. If our society would invest more in the positive things young people need, then we could expect high yields (in terms of healthier youth) as young people become healthy, contributing members of families, communities, workplaces, and society.

An overview of the developmental assets
In an effort to identify the elements of a strength-based approach to healthy development, Search Institute developed the framework of developmental assets. This framework identifies 40 critical factors for young people's growth and development. When drawn together, the assets offer a set of benchmarks for positive child and adolescent development. The assets clearly show important roles that families, schools, congregations, neighborhoods, youth organizations, and others in communities play in shaping young people's lives.

External assets
The first 20 developmental assets focus on positive experiences that young people receive from the people and institutions in their lives. Four categories of external assets are included in the framework:

  1. Support. Young people need to experience support, care, and love from their families, neighbors, and many others. They need organizations and institutions that provide positive, supportive environments.

  2. Empowerment. Young people need to be valued by their community and have opportunities to contribute to others. For this to occur, they must be safe and feel secure.

  3. Boundaries and expectations. Young people need to know what is expected of them and whether activities and behaviors are “in bounds" and “out of bounds."

  4. Constructive use of time. Young people need constructive, enriching opportunities for growth through creative activities, youth programs, congregational involvement, and quality time at home.

Internal assets
A community's responsibility for its young does not end with the provision of external assets. There needs to be a similar commitment to nurturing the internalized qualities that guide choices and create a sense of centeredness, purpose, and focus. Indeed, shaping internal dispositions that encourage wise, responsible, and compassionate judgments is particularly important in a society that prizes individualism. Four categories of internal assets are included in the framework:

Commitment to learning. Young people need to develop a lifelong commitment to education and learning.

Positive values. Youth need to develop strong values that guide their choices.

Social competencies. Young people need skills and competencies that equip them to make positive choices, to build relationships, and to succeed in life.

Positive identity. Young people need a strong sense of their own power, purpose, worth, and promise.

What schools can do
Raising awareness throughout the school community about the importance of nurturing these assets is only a first step toward promoting the well-being of students. In order for students to benefit from asset building, administrators, teachers, and staff have to be intentional about focusing on assets in the school and making them a part of everyday life.

Assets are built primarily through relationships. How students relate to their peers, teachers, and other school staff and volunteers is key to whether or not they experience an asset-rich environment. Teachers especially have a unique role as they, more than anyone in a school, have the potential to empower their students and help them succeed.

Teachers can often pick out the children early on who, if they don't get extra support and attention, are likely to have problems in the future. The developmental assets can potentially help narrow the achievement gap between high- and underachieving students by giving them clear, consistent messages that can improve learning.

To most effectively build assets for all students in a school community, assets must be integrated into the major areas of school life, including curriculum and instruction, organization, and community partnerships. Other things that schools can do include “

The research continues
Data on how the assets work are strong in some areas and sketchier in others. Some of the assets more directly affect the lives of young people and others work more indirectly. The assets cannot give all of the answers in understanding students' performance because many factors contribute to it. The clear message is that the developmental assets can play an important role in creating an environment optimal for learning. The asset framework serves as an organizing model that can help schools determine the best way to support and encourage students.

A successful child today can become a struggling teen tomorrow, if caring adults do nothing to meet her or his changing developmental needs or to positively impact daily experiences. No one source can by itself provide high levels of all the assets, but schools can be the catalysts for the community-wide collaboration needed to create a positive environment in which all youth can learn and grow.

The 40 assets and their definitions
Search Institute has identified 40 assets. Though originally developed with a focus on adolescents, the basic framework of developmental assets is relevant for all young people from birth through age 18.

External assets

Support Family support Family life provides high levels of love and support
Positive family communication Young person and her or his parent(s) communicate positively, and young person is willing to seek advice and counsel from parent(s).
Other adult relationships Young person receives support from three or more non-parent adults.
Caring neighborhood Young person experiences caring neighbors.
Caring school climate School provides a caring, encouraging environment.
Parent involvement in schooling Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school.
Empowerment Community values youth Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
Youth as resources Young people are given useful roles in the community.
Service to others Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.
Safety Young person feels safe at home, at school, and in the neighborhood
Boundaries and expectations Family boundaries Family has clear rules and consequences, and monitors the young person's whereabouts.
School boundaries School provides clear rules and consequences.
Neighborhood boundaries Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people's behavior.
Adult role models Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.
Positive peer influence Young person's best friends model responsible behavior.
High expectations Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.
Constructive use of time Creative activities Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.
Youth programs Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in community organizations.
Religious community Young person spends one hour or more per week in activities in a religious institution.
Time at home Young person is out with friends “with nothing special to do" two or fewer nights per week.

Internal assets

Commitment to Learning Achievement motivation Young person is motivated to do well in school.
School engagement Young person is actively engaged in learning.
Homework Young person reports doing at least one hour of homework every school day.
Bonding to school Young person cares about her or his school.
Reading for pleasure Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.
Positive values Caring Young person places high value on helping other people.
Equality and social justice Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty.
Integrity Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs.
Honesty Young person “tells the truth even when it is not easy."
Responsibility Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility.
Restraint Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or other drugs.
Social competencies Planning and decision-making Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices.
Interpersonal competence Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.
Cultural competence Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Resistance skills Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.
Peaceful conflict resolution Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.
Positive identity Personal power Young person feels he or she has control over “things that happen to me."
Self-esteem Young person reports having a high self-esteem.
Sense of purpose Young person reports that “my life has a purpose."
Positive view of personal future Young person is optimistic about her or his personal future.

Copyright – Search Institute. All rights reserved. This chart may be reproduced for educational, noncommercial use only (with this copyright line). No other use is permitted without prior permission from Search Institute, 700 S. Third Street, Suite 210, Minneapolis, MN 55415; 800-888-7828. This list is an educational tool. It is not intended to be nor is it appropriate as a scientific measure of the developmental assets of individuals.

Relatively few young people fall into the “most likely to succeed" category of 31-40 assets. On average, students surveyed by Search Institute experience about 18 assets; only 8 percent report having 31 or more.

School communities should not assume that, because they are focused on young people and learning, asset building is already taking place, nor that it's at its fullest potential. In particular, some assets related to school are quite low.

Only 25 percent of students report having a caring school climate (asset #24). Twenty-four percent said they read for pleasure (asset #25), and less than one-third said their parents are involved in their schooling (asset #6).

Fewer than half said that both parents and teachers expect them to do well (asset #16), that their schools have clear boundaries (asset #12), and that they do an hour or more of homework each school day (asset #23).

More encouraging, but still not satisfactory, is that more than half the students reported caring about their schools (asset #24), being engaged in learning (#22), and being motivated to do well in school (#21). The picture grows more bleak as young people make the transition from middle to high school. Twelfth graders experience, on average, far fewer assets than do sixth graders. For this reason, creating and maintaining close relationships between students, teachers, and staff, as well as encouraging students to participate in activities that can contribute to the good of the school community, becomes even more important.


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