The Developmental Assets® Framework is a tool created by the Search Institute®, for parents, caregivers, schools, and community organizations to help young people ages 12-18 progress in all aspects of their growth. This is the second half of the Developmental Assets blog series.
Part I discussed the External “positive supports and strengths” important for the relationships and experiences in young people’s lives. The External Assets include: Support, Empowerment, Boundaries & Expectations, and Constructive Use of Time.
Part II explores the Internal Assets: the personal qualities young people need to make positive choices and develop confidence, joy, and purpose:
Commitment to Learning
A brief definition and supplemental characteristics of each Asset are followed by tips and activities for application.
Commitment to Learning
Young people need a sense of the lasting importance of learning and a belief in their own abilities.
Achievement motivation – Young person is motivated to do well in school.
Acknowledge teen’s specific abilities often to fuel and extend ambition. Use spontaneous rewards with no strings attached, thereby setting an expectation for hard work and continuous learning (e.g., “You finished your project? Great, let’s celebrate by —-“). Monitor teen stress levels; high school can be academically challenging and competitive. Ask teen about his feelings in a supportive and nonjudgmental way. Urge teen to set goals that are easy, simple, and doable.
School engagement – Young person is actively engaged in learning.
Stay informed about teen’s school experience. Asking specific questions such as “What was the best, (funniest, most outrageous, etc.) thing that happened today?” will likely receive a better response than “How was your day?” Look for rigor and depth in student’s education, and utilize mentors and tutors to delve into subjects of strong interest. If teen is bored, consult with teachers about enrichment assignments to add challenge. Represent learning and school as important and fun.
Homework – Young person reports doing at least one hour of homework every school day.
Do your “work” (e.g. pay bills, read) near teen doing homework. Encouraging teen to complete as much homework as possible in free time at school will promote good time management skills, reduce the tendency to procrastinate, and allow more family time in the evening. Foster organizational skills by showing student how to outline complex material. Develop thinking ability by reading and analyzing arguments together with a critical eye. Provide guidance without giving answers. Many resources are available for homework assistance: many teachers offer open-door policies during non-class hours, a neighbor may have expertise in a subject your student has difficulty with, or consult Brainfuse HelpNow! online tutoring service accessible from the MCFL website.
Bonding to school – Young person cares about her or his school.
Participate in school service projects together and ask teen to invite a friend. Show a high regard for the school by attending conferences and parent workshops, serving in parent organizations, and volunteering even in small ways. Generate school spirit by attending activities and presentations by other students. Listen if teen complains about school or does not feel connected and take appropriate action.
Reading for pleasure – Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.
Always have books available at your house. Create a home library or bookshelf supplied by used bookstores/websites, garage sales, or book fairs. Visit the school or public library on a regular basis; librarians live to recommend interesting materials to read! Give books or magazines as gifts. Share books together: read-aloud with teen or independently. Discuss characters, plot, writing style, and themes (developmentally appropriate). Establish a family practice of reading together in the evenings – no screens allowed!
Young people need to develop strong guiding values or principles to help them make healthy life choices.
Caring – Young person places high value on helping other people.
Give to good causes (time or money). Investigate volunteer activities in the community to do together. Praise teens when they act responsibly, are considerate to others, or make good choices (even if you’re not happy with all decisions).
Equality and social justice – Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty.
Teach teen about others who might not have as much as your family. Mutually choose a group or cause you can endorse. If the aid is financial, save for a period of time then deliver the gift in person. Encourage teenagers to donate goods they no longer use to charitable organizations. Family read-alouds are opportunities to learn about people who have had a tremendous impact on social justice in their community or globally.
Integrity – Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs.
Impressing values and ethics is an important role of parents. Validate teen if she receives intolerant or judgmental responses from others.
Honesty – Young person tells the truth even when it is not easy.
Demonstrate honesty, even with small things (such as returning change when given too much) and play fair. Praise openness regardless of other misconduct; separate truthfulness from other issues. Asking an accusatory question when you already know the answer may corner your teen into lying. Children usually lie because it feels safer than articulating the truth. Try to find the reason for the lie. Ask a question like “I’m having difficulty believing this story. Did something happen that you’re afraid to tell me?”
Responsibility – Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility.
Allow teen to learn from mistakes. Support does not mean always bailing them out of trouble. Avoid nagging when kids don’t follow through with responsibilities. Let consequences naturally occur, e.g., not having clean clothes to wear if dirty ones were not placed in the laundry. Speak about what things cost and how you make choices about spending money. Urge more responsibility for pet care as child grows older.
Restraint – Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or use alcohol or other drugs.
Convey your expectations and moral code about alcohol, drugs, and sexuality. Aid your teenager in planning safe, “dry” parties at your home or other supervised location. Instill in teen that not drinking is important to you and emphasize a policy of “no-questions-asked ride home”. Don’t laugh or glorify intoxicated behavior, such as on TV or in movies. Talk to both boys and girls about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Teens will find out from someone else, but it may not be the information you want them to hear.
Young people need the skills to interact effectively with others, to make difficult decisions, and to cope with new situations.
Planning and decision making – Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices.
Advocate for planning and organizing information, and setting up intermediate deadlines to complete long-term assignments on time. Ask questions to stimulate thinking about steps involved and possible consequences of actions and decisions. Provide calendars or daily planners to log school assignments, tests, after-school activities, and appointments. Promote involvement in long-term projects at school or in your community. Let teen make plans for a family event: make guest list, plan budget, shop for food and decorations, and other tasks.
Interpersonal competence – Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.
Teach respect for others and establish a policy in your home to avoid speaking negatively about people. Use active listening: ask questions and paraphrase to make sure you understand. Model the benefits of using “I” rather than accusations that begin with “you”. Advocate to make friendships with people regardless of identity, in different settings such as school, community, or extended family.
Cultural competence – Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.
Be cognizant that “what you say and how you say it” is being illustrated to your children. Attend multicultural events and festivals, or visit museums in your community where people gather who share a common culture. Read diverse books with children, watch movies, or talk about diversity in your family travels: e.g., positive and negative labels applied to certain characteristics in people.
Resistance skills – Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.
Discuss with teen that peers may mark the rite of passage to adulthood with behaviors such as hazing, sexual activity, and substance use. Peer pressure can be a powerful motivator. Emphasize your family morals, the importance of thinking for oneself, and belief in one’s ability to make well-grounded decisions. Review effective nonviolent options such as being assertive, talking with a trained mentor, or walking away. Share a time when you let go of a friendship that wasn’t in your best interest; true friends don’t pressure others to do something he knows he shouldn’t do. Commend teen for a good decision so he understands when the right choice has been made.
Peaceful conflict resolution – Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.
Encourage teens caught in an argument to pause and take a few deep breaths. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool towards inhibitory control. Emphasize the importance of active listening, perspective taking, and thinking about creative solutions to the problem rather than attacking the other person. Model peaceful resolutions to conflicts within your own relationships, with family, and outside the home.
Young people need to believe in their own self-worth and to feel that they have control over the things that happen to them.
Personal power – Young person feels he or she has control over things that happen to me.
Crucial to self-worth is knowing you can have an effect on the world. Coach teen how to set a goal and achieve it, and brainstorm and choose solutions to problems. Look for opportunities to recognize growing personal power, such as doing chores without being told or successful group collaboration. Have ongoing discussions about new responsibilities at this age, understanding what is within her control (she does what she says) and what is not (other people), and your confidence her ability to navigate her changing world.
Self-esteem – Young person reports having a high self-esteem.
Articulate teen’s special qualities, how much you enjoy his company, and how your love for him is endless. Don’t assume he knows, let him hear it! Speak openly and be positive about puberty and changes to the body. Assist with finding solutions to physical challenges such as teen acne.
Sense of purpose – Young person reports that my life has purpose.
Accentuate unique gifts and talents. Read inspirational stories together or have books in your home about heroes who have made the world a better place. Reveal personal stories about times when you messed up and learned from your mistakes.
Optimistic view of personal future – Young person is optimistic about her or his personal future.
Chat with teen about her goals and dreams, and what she envisions for her future. Fuel thinking about career opportunities that match passions and interests. Foster discovery about resources (financial included) to make those goals a reality.
Wrapping up this two-part series on the Developmental Assets® Framework, it is important for adults to select the guidelines that work for your family, students, or teen group and are congruous with your beliefs and values. Be mindful that the Assets are designed to be an informative (not definitive) guide to nurture teens on their path to success.
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.