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Mendo Lake Family Life

40 Things Kids & Teens Need to Succeed

Jan 24, 2011 12:00AM

From the time they are born, we watch over our children's every milestone like a hawk hoping to catch a glimpse of their futures. If they grow quickly, we wonder how tall they will be. If they read early, we hope they'll find success in school. We test and track their academics and physical development ad nauseam. And yet we also know that there is more to our children's future success and happiness than growth charts and test scores. There's all that "other stuff." Stuff like having friends that are a positive influence, like finding their niche, making good decisions, being responsible, and not getting into trouble. Adolescents in particular are confronted with daily challenges, decisions and potential pitfalls that can steer them in unhealthy directions.

Parents have considerable influence over their children's decisions, yet during their teen years when our children are most likely to make bad choices and most in need of our guidance, we parents sometimes think we're not important anymore. If you are one of the many parents who wonder how to help your child make their way through the teen years, there's good news.

Firstly, as a parent you have a great deal of influence (despite their sassy attitude and rolling eyes) and there are many concrete everyday actions you can take to make a positive difference.

Secondly, all that "other stuff" like positive experiences, relationships, opportunities and personal qualities, stuff we instinctively know is important, has been neatly organized in a handy list called the "40 Developmental Assets." It's an opportunity to see what your child already has, and what he might need. This powerful tool is the result of extensive research conducted by the renowned Search Institute. Over 2.2 million youth from across the nation were involved in the study. Results show that:

  • The more Developmental Assets young people experience on a regular basis, the more likely they are to engage in healthy behaviors. Indeed, youth with high levels of assets (31-40) are 15 times less likely to engage in problem alcohol use than those with few assets (0-10). These patterns hold true for young people from all racial/ethnic groups, community types, and socioeconomic levels.
  • The more Developmental Assets young people experience, the less likely they are to engage in a wide range of other high-risk behaviors, including violence, illicit drug use, sexual activity, gambling, eating disorders, and school truancy.
  • Just as important, the more assets they experience, the more likely they are to engage in positive or thriving behaviors, such as succeeding in school, helping others, maintaining good health, and overcoming adversity.
  • Parents are vital to building assets in children and teenagers, but they are not alone. Everyone in a community plays an important role in building assets, including young people themselves. Relationships are the key to asset building. Forming positive healthy relationships lays the foundation for passing on values, setting boundaries, and having important conversations about alcohol and other issues.
  • Asset building is an ongoing process, not a one-time program. Parents and others can start building assets when their children are young and continue building assets through their high school years and beyond. An asset-building strategy is an important part of the solution that promotes academic success, diverts youth from risky behaviors, increases civic engagement, and gives young people the foundation to make positive choices now and throughout their lives.

This pioneering research has been used in hundreds of cities across the nation, and locally as well. The Sonoma County Family YMCA began implementing the 40 Developmental Assets into their childcare program for the 2004-05 school year. The 40 Developmental Assets are discussed with the children and disseminated to their parents. In the childcare program, asset development is included in the daily schedule twice a week. Additionally, each month the sites feature a different set of assets as a theme for projects, special events, and games. "We are finding that the Developmental Assets are an expression of the work we have been doing for years," says Jeremy Hodgdon, YMCA Senior Program Director.

As a part of the YMCA's childcare curriculum, 268 second and fourth graders from the YMCA's 19 childcare sites were tested in October 2004 at the beginning of the program and again in May 2005 to see what effect the program had on the development of these assets. The children showed an improvement in 32 of the 40 areas. The biggest gains included 17% more children volunteering in their community. (Community service was incorporated into the curriculum at all 19 child care sites.) In addition 9% more children participate in creative activities at least 3 hours a week. And 8% more children report that their lives have purpose and actively engage their skills. "The 40 assets really underscore all of the work we do'" says Hobson. "The staff has a deeper appreciation of what we do and parents can tangibly see how our programs enrich their children's lives."

Think About Internal vs External Assets

The 40 Developmental Assets are organized into two main categories, internal and external assets.

External Assets include the organizations and relationships that provide support and structure to your child. These include:

  • Support- Children thrive when they receive encouragement, support, and love from parents and other adults and in the places they spend time. By inviting other caring, responsible adults to be a part of your child's life, you can broaden your child's experiences and network of care, encouragement, and guidance.
  • Empowerment- Adolescents should be encouraged to be active contributors inside and outside the home. Encourage them to take on appropriate responsibilities for themselves, their families, their communities and the organizations to which they belong. Providing opportunities to explore their leadership abilities and to serve others lets them know they are valued and valuable.
  • Boundaries and Expectations- Children need to know what's expected of them at home, at school, and at other places they spend time. They also need clear rules and consequences for what they should and shouldn't do. Starting that process early in life makes it easier for when they have more independence as teenagers.
  • Constructive Use of Time- With so many social, recreational, entertainment and educational opportunities available, most children stay busy. But "keeping busy" is not always the most constructive use of your child's time, or your family's. Shared and individual hobbies, spiritual activities, volunteer work, youth programs, and quality time at home also play a role in your child's healthy development.

Internal Assets encompass the personal qualities and capabilities that your child or teen has internalized. These include:

  • Commitment to Learning- Nurturing a lifelong commitment to learning begins with the belief that all young people can learn- and that all young people have something they can teach others, even adults. Finding opportunities for your family to learn and to celebrate learning through everyday activities helps them see the importance of learning throughout their lives.
  • Positive Values- Talking with your children about what's really important to your family (such as honesty and responsibility), helps your children develop an internal "compass" that guides their choices. Positive values begin at home, but they don't end there. Showing care, concern and respect for your neighbors and your community also contribute to instilling positive values in your children.
  • Social Competencies- Every child needs to learn how to build relationships, make decisions, resolve disagreements, cope with challenges, and get along with many different kinds of people. Those are skills children begin learning from their parents as you do things together and encourage them to try new things on their own.
  • Positive Identity- A strong sense of their own power, purpose, worth, and promise helps young people make wise decisions. Listen to your child talk about his or her sense of purpose in life, ask what they are passionate about, and encourage their discoveries and capabilities.