Executive Director of Essex CHIPS

David Voegele

In previous columns I have referenced the “positive youth development” framework for helping youth to thrive. The basis for this approach to working with youth is reflected in the Search Institute’s concept of 40 Developmental Assets®. The Search Institute (Minneapolis MN) has documented over decades that these “protective factors” are the foundation for the healthy development of youth. The Institute has also established that the more of these factors that are present in a youth’s life, the more likely that youth will be able to succeed in their school and their community. That being the case, it seems that it could be helpful to our readers if I provide a bit more information on this topic.

The 40 Developmental Assets® are essentially 20 internal attributes that benefit teens, and 20 external factors that help teens develop these attributes. The internal attributes can be summarized as:

  • The teen is motivated to do well in school, is actively engaged in learning, cares about the school, and does assigned homework.
  • The teen reads for pleasure, enjoys helping others, and values equality and social injustice.
  • The teen stands up for her/his beliefs, values truthfulness, and accepts personal responsibility.
  • The teen believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or other drugs.
  • The teen knows how to plan ahead and make healthy choices.
  • The teen has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.
  • The teen values cultural/racial/ethnic/income/ability diversity.
  • The teen can resist negative pressure/unhealthy situations, and resolve conflict nonviolently.
  • The teen feels she/he has control over her/his life, demonstrates high self-esteem, believes life has purpose, and is optimistic about her/his personal future.

The external factors that help youth develop these internal attributes can be summarized as:

  • Family life provides high levels of love, support and positive communication.
  • The teen receives support from nonparent adults, including those in the neighborhood.
  • The school provides a caring but challenging experience, and parent(s) actively encourage the teen to succeed in school.
  • The community effectively communicates to teens that they are valued and offered useful roles in the community, and the teen serves in the community one hour or more per week.
  • The home, school, and neighborhood offer safe environments for the teen.
  • Family, school, and neighbors have clear rules and consequences, and monitor the teen’s whereabouts/behavior, as appropriate.
  • Parent(s), other adults, and the teen’s best friends model positive & responsible behavior.
  • Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the teen to do well.
  • The teen benefits from weekly participation in music, theater, or other arts, and weekly participation in sports, clubs, or school/community organizations.

From my perspective as the Director of a local youth agency, it is clear that many/most of the external factors described above are demonstrated throughout the Essex area. They are characteristic of a Quality Youth Development community, one that encourages youth to aim high, embrace challenges, and strive to rise – like our youth mountain climbers above.