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Teen Health 411

What Are Developmental Assets And How Can Parents Help Develop Them?

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According to many research studies and the Search Institute, there are 40 developmental assets that are associated with successful adolescents ages 12 to 18. These are positive characteristics, skills, and support systems that teens need to grow into caring, responsible, productive and happy adults.

As a parent, we cannot do everything at once, but giving some thought to each of these assets, in relation to your teen, will provide you with some sense of success as a parent and a break from the things we tend to get fixated on - like grades, flossing teeth, and appearance - teens are so much more!

External assets include support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and constructive use of time.
Support
  • Family Support - traditions, hugs, spending time with and giving them attention, privacy and respect
  • Positive Family Communication - email, letters, notes, and positive talk every day leads to young people who share things as well as ask for advice
  • Other Adult Relationships - It is important that teens have adults they trust and will talk to. Usually these relationships form around something the teen share in common - like a skill, hobby or interest.
  • Caring Neighborhood - Knowing that people in the neighborhood recognize you and care really matters.
  • Caring School Climate - School should be safe and encourage kids to take risks and challenge themselves. Ask questions and know what is happening.
Empowerment
  • Community Values Youth - Teens know if youth are valued or seen as a "pain." Adults can help by being patient with young employees and complimenting them when they do a good job.
  • Youth as Resources - Teens can be included in community decisions or as peer tutors - and have some great ideas.
  • Service to Others - We all benefit from doing something for others - even if it is only an hour a week. Everyone can do something nice for another person, animal or organization.
  • Safety - Teens grow better in a loving, safe, and violence-free home and community. Parents can help them not drive when stressed or upset, model time-outs, and teach tension-reducing habits.
Boundaries and Expectations
  • Family Boundaries - Clear rules and consequences make teens feel safe, as well as having adults that monitor their whereabouts.
  • School Boundaries - Schools need clear rules and boundaries, too. Teens need to know that bullying will not be allowed.
  • Neighborhood Boundaries - Adults in the neighborhood should monitor the behavior of teens and let parents know when it is unacceptable. Know where your kids are and who they are with. Meet parents
  • Adult Role Models - Parents and other adults should model positive behavior - tell them you are sorry when you are, solve problems in healthy ways, bravely discuss things that embarrass you.
  • Positive Peer Influence - Teens with friends who model responsible behavior, tend to be responsible.
  • High Expectations - Teens benefit from having teachers and parents who encourage them to do well.
Constructive Use of Time
  • Creative Activities - Spending 3+ hours a week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.
  • Youth Programs - Spending 3+ hours a week in sports, clubs or organizations at school or in the community.
  • Religious Community - Spending 1+ hours a week in a religious or spiritually-oriented institution.
  • Time at Home - Should be constructive and family-oriented. Limiting screen time, sharing meals, and playing games or taking walks together provide relaxation and time to talk.
Internal assets include commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity.
Commitment to Learning -
  • Achievement Motivation -Most teens want to do well in school. If you value hard work and learning, chances are good that your child will, too! Help them understand the role of education in their future. Monitor the stress level in teens, especially - staying aware of overscheduling and the tendency to want to "do it all."
  • School Engagement -Being actively engaged in learning means teens are challenged and enjoy what they are learning. If they are bored, talk to teachers about how to add depth or richness to the curriculum for your child. Parents help by being positive about school and involved - know what teens are doing in school and add things at home to support what they are leaning. A trip to a museum or aquarium, or forest will allow them to share what they are learning.
  • Homework - Students who do at least one of homework a day do better in school and are more successful as adults. parents can support them by structuring a quiet time to do the homework after a healthy snack and some exercise by sitting near them doing our own work - paying bills, balancing checkbooks, or reading for work or pleasure. Just a note - there is no evidence that doing more homework is better!
  • Bonding to School - Caring about school is an important predictor of success. Parents model pride in school by being involved, communicating with teachers,
  • Reading for Pleasure - Teens should read for pleasure at least 3+ hours a week and if you have read to them, with them, and frequently talk about what they are reading, this will happen naturally. Book groups help, too!
Positive Values
  • Caring - Helping others is rewarding and an important part of belonging to a neighborhood, community or larger social group. Encouraging teens to volunteer with you in the community and telling them you are proud will help them make giving to others a part of their life.
  • Equality and Social Justice - Developing a conviction that everyone is equal and deserves to have basic needs for food, shelter and health care will encourage your teens to think about others.
  • Integrity - Acting on convictions and standing up for what is right is hard sometimes, and talking about our choices helps teens learn. Standing up to bullies or stopping the telling of ethnic jokes is hard, but necessary - support your kids.
  • Honesty - Telling the truth should not really be an option - even if it means trouble! Parents can role model this and the fact that honesty works both ways - not just when it benefits us! giving back extra change is as important as not cheating the IRS or lying about a building permit.
  • Responsibility - Teens need to learn that they can be responsible and follow through with things. Parents teach this by NOT fixing mistakes or coming to the rescue when teens forget things and do not plan things. By letting natural consequences happen, teens learn what they need to do.
  • Restraint - Talk to your kids about alcohol, smoking, drugs, and sex and the reasons you do not want them involved in those activities until they are adults. Be a good role model!
Social Competencies
  • Planning and Decision Making - Good choices and planning are skills that are learned - and parents can help by letting kids help plan things and learning how many steps are required to make a successful project, party, or vacation happen.
  • Interpersonal Competence - Being empathetic, sensitive and a good friend are important predictors of future healthy relationships. Parents can be good role models by not speaking badly of others, requiring "please," and "thank you" as signs of respect, and being nice to everyone they run across in service roles.
  • Cultural Competence - Knowing about 'differences" and other sexual orientations, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and religions make young people more accepting. Parents can help by exposing teens to everything they can find that may be different.
  • Resistance Skills - Recognizing healthy relationships and resisting negative peer pressure and avoiding dangerous situations are important skills. Teach teens to walk away, be assertive, or just find friends that do not end up in dangerous situations.
  • Peaceful Conflict Resolution - Forgive! We all need to be able to apologize, explain, negotiate, and resolve conflicts in relationships. Hurting in any way is unacceptable and NOT part of childhood. Teach people to honor others by mediating apologies. As parents - apologize do not buy things to make yourself feel better!
Positive Identity
  • Personal Power - Teens need to feel in control of what is happening in their lives - especially since puberty seems uncontrollable. having opportunities to do new things or set goals, and succeed builds a sense of personal power.
  • Self-Esteem - High self-esteem comes from knowing people like our company, hearing what people like about us and knowing that someone loves us forever and no matter what! Do not assume your teen knows this - tell him or her! When their bodies change - celebrate - help them find habits or products that keep their skin healthy and encourage healthy habits.
  • Sense of Purpose - Teens who have a purpose in life are happier. Reading books about people who overcome barriers or are heroes helps!
  • Positive View of Personal Future - Teen is optimistic about his or her future. Parents can help by asking teens what they think their strengths are and what they foresee as their future. Helping them identify what education and resources are necessary to achieve those goals helps them make a plan for achieving their goals.
Photo credit: "T"eresa
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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