Children thrive when they feel safe, important and included. Valuing youth is at the core of the 40 Developmental Assets, the “building blocks” that help young people grow up to be healthy, caring, responsible adults.
This movement evolved from several large studies which revealed that the more assets young people have, the less likely they are to engage in high-risk, unhealthy behaviors – regardless of their gender, economic status, family or race.
These Assets focus on ensuring that youth are connected with caring adults, safe places and meaningful activities – and the studies concluded that these connections very accurately predict whether children will engage in risky behavior. Of course, we try to prepare our kids for the tough decisions they’ll have to make in life, but even more important is to help them develop a strong foundation. To build Assets, adults can:
- Help surround youth with people who love, appreciate and accept them
- Show them they are valued and valuable
- Set clear rules, consistent consequences and encouragement
- Provide opportunities to have fun, develop new skills and build healthy relationships with others
- Build their commitment to learning and belief in their own abilities
- Instill a strong sense of values, self-worth, power, purpose and promise
The more of these assets that youth have, the more likely they are to become adults who avoid drugs, express satisfaction with their lives, show wise decision-making skills, tell the truth, be responsible, have deep and healthy relationships with family and friends, complete high school (and often college), and participate in their community.
At Public Health, we train our staff in Developmental Assets and we strive to incorporate them into our practices. Each of us also has the opportunity to build youth Assets daily while we work and play (for more information on local efforts, check out the Health Improvement Partnership of Shasta County).
Sadly, many adults “involve” youth in superficial ways. For example, they will use youth as an image to bolster a cause, but the youth actually have little choice about what they do. A better, but still imperfect, approach is when youth are told how their input will be used in a project, but decisions are still made by adults.
Ideally, we should work toward situations where adults may launch a program but they share decision-making equally with youth. Better yet are situations where youth initiate and direct projects. Best of all are youth-initiated programs where decision-making is shared with adults. Projects that fall into this category empower youth while allowing them to learn from the life experience and expertise of adults.
What are some ways that you build Assets in youth? Do you coach a soccer team, read to students in your child’s class, bake cookies with your grandchildren, or say hello to the neighborhood children? What about the place where you work – do you have youth volunteers, job shadow opportunities, or even youth advisers who give you input about how your company or organization affects them? And if you are a parent, what are some of the experiences that your children have had that have made them feel valued by our community? Post your replies to these questions here. Who knows? You may give another adult ideas on how to build assets in the youth of their world.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Donnell Ewert, MPH, is director of Shasta County Public Health. While at Wheaton College, he participated in the Human Needs and Global Resources program, which included a seven-month internship in Honduras – an experience that sparked his interest in public health. He earned his master’s degree from UCLA after evaluating a program that used goats to increase the nutritional intake of malnourished children. He worked briefly as a health educator with migrant farm workers in Virginia before becoming an epidemiologist for the health departments in Los Angeles and the state of Indiana. Donnell came to Shasta County Public Health as an epidemiologist in 1999, after doing humanitarian health work in Kazakhstan. He has been the department director since 2007. He and his wife, Mary, have two teenage daughters.