Developmental Assets and Why They Matter

Lead Author: Aicha Diop

I had just finished my teaching session and we were going around the room talking about what we learned. One student raised their hand and said, “I learned I can say no.” 

Admittedly, I was taken aback because of the many layers this answer carried. In that moment I realized I not only gave students the tools to make healthy decisions for themselves but unlocked the knowledge of what it means to have bodily autonomy.

I was humbled to hear that I was so influential, but at the same time,  saddened to hear they didn’t know they held those tools the whole time. It was a strong  reminder how much of an impact educators, mentors, parents, and neighbors can have in helping youth build their personal strengths and assets. 

This type of impact can be identified as Asset Building. In short, asset building is when adults support the development of youth by building up positive aspects of the community and social environment.

Summer 2022 the Teen emPower! staff, myself included, completed a training by the Search Institute called Essentials of Asset Building. We began the training by learning what assets are essential to youth success. These Developmental Assets are “positive experiences and qualities that all of us have the power to bring into the lives of children and youth.” They have identified 40 assets split into external and internal categories. 

External Asset Categories:

Support, Empowerment, Boundaries and Expectations, and Constructive Use of Time. 

Support assets can come from a variety of sources, and might look as simple as talking to your child about their day at the dinner table. Empowerment assets can also come in many different forms, like the community valuing youth success or creating an environment where youth can feel safe. Young people also thrive in structure and that is where boundaries and expectations come into play. Setting clear expectations for youth at home, at school, and in the community will help create that safe space for them to succeed. Additionally, young people can gain a lot from assets that are a constructive use of time. This could look like creating after school programs or other opportunities that build tools for youth success. 

Internal Asset Categories

Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies, and Positive Identity. 

Commitment to learning is an asset category focused on understanding that learning is important. It might look like motivation to do well in school or reading for pleasure. It’s also important that they believe in their abilities. Positive value assets could be defined as the development of a moral compass. In order to interact well with others, young people also need to develop social competencies. Examples of how to build these assets include understanding and being accepting of their peers from different cultural backgrounds, or being able to resist peer pressure to drink under age. Lastly, there are positive identity assets, which is how youth view themselves – their self esteem.

Understanding and utilizing these assets can improve the lives of our youth. They help us refocus our programs, like SHAPE, on how we can keep young people at the forefront of our decision-making and implementation processes. The 40 developmental assets reinforce what we here at Teen emPower! already know to be true. Young people need trusted, encouraging adults to thrive, and this will directly affect the future of our communities.

Anyone can be an asset-builder, starting right now.