What Kids Need to Succeed

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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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 internal 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.

40 Developmental Assets

1. Family Support-Family life provides high levels of love and support.

2. Positive Family Communication-Young person and her or his parent(s) communicate positively, and young person is willing to seek advice and counsel from parents.

3. Other Adult Relationships-Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.

4. Caring Neighborhood-Young person experiences caring neighbors.

5. Caring School Climate-School provides a caring, encouraging environment.

6. Parent Involvement in Schooling-Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school.

7. Community Values Youth-Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.

8. Youth as Resources-Young people are given useful roles in the community.

9. Service to Others-Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.

10. Safety-Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood.

11. Family Boundaries-Family has clear rules and consequences and monitors the young person?s whereabouts.

12. School Boundaries-School provides clear rules and consequences.

13. Neighborhood Boundaries-Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people?s behavior.

14. Adult Role Models-Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.

15. Positive Peer Influence-Young person?s best friends model responsible behavior.

16. High Expectations-Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.

17. Creative Activities-Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.

18. Youth Programs-Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in the community.

19. Religious Community-Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.

20. Time at Home-Young person is out with friends "with nothing special to do" two or fewer nights per week.

21. Achievement Motivation-Young person is motivated to do well in school.

22. School Engagement-Young person is actively engaged in learning.

23. Homework-Young person reports doing at least one hour of homework every school day.

24. Bonding to School-Young person cares about her or his school.

25. Reading for Pleasure-Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.

26. Caring-Young person places high value on helping other people.

27. Equality and Social Justice-Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty.

28. Integrity-Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs.

29. Honesty-Young person "tells the truth even when it is not easy."

30. Responsibility-Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility.

31. Restraint-Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or other drugs.

32. Planning and Decision Making-Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices.

33. Interpersonal Competence-Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.

34. Cultural Competence-Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.

35. Resistance Skills-Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.

36. Peaceful Conflict Resolution-Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.

37. Personal Power-Young person feels he or she has control over "things that happen to me."

38. Self-Esteem-Young person reports having a high self-esteem.

39. Sense of Purpose-Young person reports that "my life has a purpose."

40. Positive View of Personal Future-Young person is optimistic about her or his personal future.

The Power of Assets

On one level, the 40 developmental assets represent everyday wisdom about positive experiences and characteristics for young people. In addition, Search Institute research has found that these assets are powerful influences on adolescent behavior--both protecting young people from many different problem behaviors and promoting positive attitudes and behaviors. This power is evident across all cultural and socioeconomic groups of youth. There is also evidence from other research that assets have the same kind of power for younger children.

Yet, while the assets are powerful shapers of young people's lives and choices, too few young people experience enough of these assets. The average young person surveyed experiences only 18 of the 40 assets. Overall, 62 percent of young people surveyed experience fewer than 20 of the assets. In short, most young people in the United States do not have in their lives many of the basic building blocks of healthy development.

Everyone's an Asset Builder 

The good news is that everyone can build assets. It's not just the responsibility of families, schools, social service agencies, or other institutions; though they all have important roles. Everyone, from a child to a grandparent to a caring neighbor, can start building assets today with the young people in your family, neighborhood, and community.