Options for Youth: We all need an 'asset builder' in our lives
Think back to when you were in the third grade, middle school or high school. Can you name a trusted adult who made a difference in your life and helped you to make the best and safest decisions?
This person may have been a parent, a teacher, a neighbor, a coach, a pastor, or the owner of the local grocery store. This person may not even realize the impact that they had on your life. What you do remember is that this person connected with you and appreciated you for who you were and what you did.
This person was an "asset builder" and we all need these people in our lives.
Since its creation in 1990, Search Institute's framework for "Developmental Assets" has become one of the most widely used approach to positive youth development. These developmental assets are 40 common sense, positive experiences and qualities that help young people make good choices, and to help them become caring, responsible, successful adults.
More than 20 years of research by Search Institute shows that the more assets that young people have in their lives, the less likely they are to engage in different types of high risk behavior, including problem alcohol use, violence, gang involvement, illicit drug use and sexual activity.
Assets have also been demonstrated to promote wellness and academic success.
The developmental assets are divided into external and internal assets. External assets include Support, Empowerment, Boundaries and Expectations, and Constructive Use of Time.
Internal assets include Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies, and a Positive Identity.
The power of these assets is evident across all cultural and socio-economic groups of youth. Unfortunately, research also shows that the average young person experiences fewer than half of the 40 assets, and boys experience an average of three fewer assets than girls.
So how do we build assets in our youth? We must first shift our thinking from trying to fix young people's problems to promoting young people's strengths. This means developing relationships with young people, getting to know who they really are, what they like to do, and what their goals and dreams are. Spending quality time with a young person can make a huge difference in their life.
Who can be an asset builder? Search Institute's founder Peter L. Benson believed that "if you breathe, you're on the team!"
Anyone can support young people in their homes, schools and community. Relationships are key.
Some people are natural asset builders, perhaps because they had strong connections with caring adults during their lives and have a higher number of the assets themselves. Others may need to develop their skills as an asset builder, intentionally seeking what's right with our young people and celebrating it.
An ancient African proverb is attributed with saying, "It takes a whole village to raise a child." Our young people are worth the effort.
If you would like to volunteer as a mentor for a young person, please contact your local schools or community organizations.