If you have a pre-teen or teen in your life, you know the transitional years to adulthood can involve challenges for the entire family. The Developmental Assets® Framework is a guide designed with “positive strengths and support” (termed “assets”) for young people ages 12-18 to thrive. Created by the Search Institute®, the precepts serve parents, guardians, schools, and community organizations dedicated to help adolescents become “healthy, caring, and responsible” adults.
These guidelines are divided into External Assets and Internal Assets. External Assets are the relationships and experiences young people need from their family, school, neighborhood, and community.
Boundaries & Expectations
Constructive Use of Time
Internal Assets are the personal qualities young people need to make positive choices and develop confidence, joy, and purpose in their lives. They include Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies, and Positive Identity.
Commitment to Learning
Part I of the two-part series explores the External Assets. A brief definition and supplemental characteristics of each Asset are followed by tips and activities for application.
Young people need to be surrounded by people who love, care for, appreciate, and accept them.
Family support – Family life provides high levels of love and support.
Create family rituals such as game night, service days, or seasonal outings. Give teens space, and respect privacy when desired. Spend time every week with teen individually. Send care packages (e.g., small games, puzzles, etc., catered to their interests) to teenagers who don’t live at home or are away for an extended period of time.
Positive family communication – Young person and their parent(s) communicate positively, and young person is willing to seek parent(s) advice and counsel.
Use comfortable situations like riding in the car or going for walks to allow opportunities for conversation (sometimes no direct eye contact makes communication easier). Connect regularly with teen about school, job, volunteer or social commitments to ensure compatibility with family schedules. Ask teen to tell family members where he is, how he can be reached, and when he will be home.
Other adult relationships – Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.
Facilitate connecting teenagers with other adults who can be a mentor, share common interests, and enjoy spending time together.
Caring neighborhood – Young person experiences caring neighbors.
Throw a block party and invite families in the neighborhood. Plan a bake sale or garage sale and set-up refreshments in the yard, inviting neighbors to come and chat. Organize informal activities such as game night or pick-up basketball (on a regular basis if popular).
Caring school climate – School provides a caring, encouraging environment.
Chat with teen about his friends and experiences in the school halls, lunchroom, and bus rides. Listen attentively without reacting; try asking open-ended questions if teen is not forthcoming. Report bullying to school authorities. If a source of the bullying is your teen, focus on working on a plan together to end it, and consider seeking assistance from professional counselors.
Parent involvement in schooling – Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school.
Become a partner for your student’s education by introducing yourself to her teachers and establishing open communication with them. Attend parent-teacher conferences. Volunteer to assist in the classroom whenever possible. Also talk with your student about assignments and be available for help if necessary.
Young people need to feel valued and valuable. This happens when youth feel safe and respected.
Community values youth – Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
Be friendly to the youth who assist you in retail or eating establishments: smile and compliment good service. If a mistake is made, be patient. When hiring a teen, celebrate the first day on the job with lunch and a tour of your workplace. Chat about your role as well as the job responsibilities for the teen. Invite questions from teen to elevate curiosity.
Youth as resources – Young people are given useful roles in the community.
Solicit input from teenager on decisions that will affect her and listen thoroughly. Involve teen in fundraising or charity events by offering meaningful tasks. Inspire teen to mentor peers by active listening, providing empathy, and facilitate thinking through challenges.
Service to others – Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.
Involve teen in charitable activities, incorporating her personal interests. Expose teen to new situations such as visiting or sending care packages to children, the elderly in hospitals and nursing homes, or the military. Designate a “closet cleaning day” and deliver collected items to local shelters or nonprofits serving people in need. Organize or participate together in a fundraiser for natural disaster relief, scholarships, animal shelters, etc.
Safety – Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood.
Cultivate a loving, violence-free home environment. Withdraw immediately if you feel tempted to be emotionally or physically violent with a teen. Remove yourself from the situation and calm down; consult with someone who can help if needed. Take action if a young person is in danger or engaging in risky behaviors. Monitor the behavior closely and seek professional assistance. Discuss the danger of driving with any kind of emotional or physical distraction. Contact police if weapons are involved in an altercation.
Boundaries and Expectations
Young people need clear rules, consistent consequences for breaking rules, and encouragement to do their best.
Family boundaries – Family has clear rules and consequences, and monitors the young person’s whereabouts.
Be flexible when setting boundaries and take the long view. Monitor teen whereabouts: ask where he is going, with whom, and when he will be home. If teen berates you, respond calmly, without anger (e.g., “I’m sorry you are feeling that way. I love you, but it’s not okay to act like this.”) Keep computers in common areas of your home rather than in rooms unsupervised for long periods.
School boundaries – School provides clear rules and consequences.
Parent(s) and teen learn the school dress code and consequences for not following rules of appearance. School should feel safe. If teen is being teased or bullied, contact school authorities as soon as you become aware of the issue.
Neighborhood boundaries – Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people’s behavior.
Extend a compliment to other parents when you see their children acting responsibly or with kindness. Aim to praise more often than report misbehavior. Make your home welcoming to youth. If kids get rowdy, be firm but calm to re-establish control. Meet the parents of your teen’s friends. If your teen wants to go to the movies with friends, call the friend’s parents and establish a meeting place and pick-up time.
Adult role models – Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.
A happy and healthy relationship with your partner will benefit the entire family. Be honest and sincere when saying you are sorry. Model courage by admitting a mistake, even if you feel embarrassed. Ensure kids hear adults solving problems in peaceful ways, without shouting angry words or physicality. If you or your teens witness intimidation or bullying, talk about it and discuss alternate ways to handle the situation. Exemplify hard work, a cheerful attitude, and respect for others.
Positive peer influence – Young person’s best friends model responsible behavior.
Remind teen that he has the power to say no, even with a friend or peer.
High expectations – Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.
Talk with your teen about her hopes and dreams. Ask what she expects of herself and how you can support her. Together, find the resources necessary to make the dream a reality. Setbacks can be a learning opportunity; discuss what could be done differently next time. Offer an example of when you had an expectation that was too high, what happened, and lessons learned.
Constructive Use of Time
Young people need opportunities – outside of school – to learn and develop new skills and interests with other youth and adults.
Creative activities – Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice of music, theater, or other arts.
Inspire teen to find suitable outlets to express imagination, such as auditioning for a play, joining a music group, or enrolling in art workshops.
Youth programs – Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in community organizations.
Youth groups can build strong, caring relationships for teenagers. Suggest teen participates in after-school programs or activities. Partner with teen to research opportunities in the community. The library is a great place to start! Check out formal mentoring programs through school and community organizations. Adults other than parents can be a significant and valuable influence for many teens.
Religious community – Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.
Expose teenager to different cultures and belief systems. Invite teen to offer her interpretation of religious or spiritual concepts. Withhold judgmental remarks and ask questions for her to clarify comments to promote critical thinking.
Time at home – Young person is out with friends “with nothing special to do”, two or fewer nights per week.
Institutionalize at least one night a week as media-free family time. Vary the activities such as playing games, making dinner together, or reading aloud. Set boundaries for TV, video games, and computer use. Honor meals as times to connect as a family. Motivate teen to do enterprising activities in addition to “hanging out” with friends.
Life with your pre-teens or teenagers may already include some of these practices. It is important for adults to select the guidelines that work for your family, your students, or teen group, and are congruous with your beliefs and values. Be mindful that the Assets aim to be an informative (not definitive) guide to nurture teens on their path to success.
Developmental Assets Part II will examine the Internal Assets for teen life and the respective supplemental characteristics: Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies, and Positive Identity.
For more information
Positive Youth Development: Erie’s 40 Assets [website article]
The 40 Developmental Assets® may be reproduced for educational, noncommercial uses only. Copyright © 1997 Search Institute®, 3001 Broadway Street NE, Suite 310, Minneapolis, MN 55413; 800-888-7828; www.search-institute.org. All rights reserved.