Asset Building + Social Determinants of Health

Lead Author: Aicha Diop

In our last blog, we identified developmental assets and how these can be used to positively influence the lives of young people. However, our ability as adults to create and sustain asset building processes are largely determined by societal factors and cultural conditions. Basically, we have to consider social determinants of health to determine how to best build assets for our youth.

For example, we as a society struggle to develop assets in the positive identity category due to various social issues that are compounded by the media. If our young people do not feel capable, beautiful, worthy, or that they have goals for themselves, due to manipulated images or comparison to others online, they may not feel as developed in this category. This can potentially result in lower development in other asset categories, because young people who don’t believe in their self-worth might struggle to create positive values or set boundaries. Overall, developing internal assets, like positive identity, can be more difficult. Mainly because these internal assets rely heavily on the mental health of our youth in addition to the external assets they may receive from the community.

Understanding the role each of us plays in our students’ lives, and how we can develop positive assets in youth lives, is extremely important in creating a bright future for them. At Teen emPower!, we are committed to giving all young people the tools they need to develop positive relationships, make healthy decisions and be self-sustaining. We use an asset-building approach in working with the young people in our programs, and we believe all adults can be asset-builders for youth too. Not only that, but we firmly believe that youth can be important asset-builders for each other. 

Teen emPower! has a goal to help improve adolescent health and lower the teen birth rate in Oklahoma County knowing this will help improve the overall health of  young people and our community. Social determinants, or conditions that our students grow up in which can influence their behavioral outcomes, impact this goal. For example, in environments where there are low educational achievement rates there tends to be higher teen birth rates. After school programs are a specific example of asset building in action. If schools or youth-serving organizations cannot offer them due to lack of  funding, those students are missing out on developmental opportunities. 

It is the responsibility of programs like ours, and other community members who wish to be asset builders, to understand social determinants of health and consider how we can improve these within our community. Only when we develop healthy social determinants can we create an environment where all students can receive developmental assets essential to success. If we can make this happen, we would see not only a decrease in teen birth rates, but also a decrease in other risky behaviors and negative outcomes. 

To help adults improve their skills as asset-builders, Search Institute has created a guide for building Developmental Relationships. It focuses on four simple areas of working with youth: expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, and sharing power. 

We need asset-building programs and opportunities for youth involvement in our community, specifically ones that build up their self esteem, give them a sense or purpose,  and prioritize their mental health and well-being. We need to create safe and equal environments and provide quality education for all young people. This includes, evidence-based programs on healthy decision making and other life skills. With a focus on the 40 developmental assets and relationships, along with an awareness of social determinants, we can better engage all of our youth in meaningful ways and help them build successful lives. 

Everyone can be an asset-builder, including you.