What elements in your child’s life will help him or her grow up to be a thriving, caring, successful, responsible adult? Can we parents help to create an environment for our children that will be much more likely to result in successful outcomes? What tools are available to help us do that?
Since 1989, the Search Institute has been conducting research to answer these questions, and from that research has put together a list of 40 “Developmental Assets.” These 40 elements, when present in a child’s life, contribute in powerful ways to healthy adulthood. The basic idea is the more of these "Assets" a child has available as they grow up, the more likely they will be to experience a holistically healthy childhood, and the more likely in turn that they will be positioned for success as an adult as well.
There are 40 elements for each of four age levels: early childhood, grades K-3, middle childhood, and adolescence. The lists are further divided into external and internal assets: things that surround the child and provide support, as well as internal qualities that kids can develop that will serve them well. The good news is that these Assets can all be cultivated, and though family circumstances may make it easier or harder to surround our children with these elements or to help them develop these inward qualities, the vast majority of the Assets can be developed regardless or even in spite of challenges that families face.
For example, let's examine just the Assets from the adolescent External Assets list, under the subheading "Support." There are six of them:
- Family Support | Family life provides high levels of love and support.
- 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.
- Other Adult Relationships | Young person receives support from three or more non-parent adults.
- Caring Neighborhood | Young person experiences caring neighbors.
- Caring School Climate | School provides a caring, encouraging environment.
- Parent Involvement in Schooling | Parent(s) are actively involved in helping the child succeed in school.
One of the great things about the Search Institute's website is that for each asset there is a link suggesting ways in which parents can help cultivate these strengths in the lives of their children. We're not left to try to increase our children's asset strength on our own; the Institute has many helpful ideas and resources for further growth and progress.
It's really not by chance or luck that some children have an easier time growing up and finding their place as adults. According to the Search Institute's research, successful adulthood begins with helping our children develop the assets they need to progress to adulthood in healthy ways. The good news for all parents is that these assets are things that we can intentionally seek to pursue for the sake of our children.