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Protecting Your Children from Today’s Problems

October 2012

When we read headlines about the challenges our children face confronting drugs, alcohol, violence, illicit sexuality and more, we might pause to wonder in the face of it all what would help protect our children against such things? In response to this question, the Search Institute (www.searchinstitute.org) conducted research in order to find out what internal and external variables contribute to a child’s thriving. From their results, they came up with forty developmental assets which act as contributors to the thriving of young people.

The commonsense, positive experiences and qualities the Institute identified as a result of their research are categorized according to external and internal assets. External assets consist of positive experiences that children and youth gain through interactions with people and institutions. Internal assets are those personal characteristics and behaviors that stimulate the young person’s positive development. Taken all together, a child who has most or all of these assets available will be resilient and able to thrive.

External assets consist of support, empowerment, appropriate boundaries and expectations, and constructive use of time. Support can come from a variety of places. For example, the family can provide high levels of love and active support in helping them succeed. Also, when the child receives support from three or more nonparent adults, experiences caring neighbors, and goes to a school that provides a caring and encouraging environment, the child is then considered to be receiving a maximum level of support from their surroundings.

Empowerment is imparted when the young person perceives that adults in the community value youth, and it is helpful when he or she is given a useful role within it. Safety is also important, for a young person must feel safe at home, at school and in the neighborhood in order to thrive.

Boundaries and expectations also add to the young person’s ability to do well. When the family has clear rules and expectations, the school provides clear rules and consequences, and neighbors take responsibility for monitoring their behavior, he is enabled to feel safe and cared for. It is also important that the surrounding adults, as well as the young person’s best friends, model positive, responsible behaviors. You can imagine how great your child would feel if everyone in their world was behaving admirably and appropriately supporting them on their individual path through life!

If most or all of the above external assets are provided to young people, the internal assets they need to flourish will develop naturally. These include a commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and a positive identity. A young person who is motivated to do well in school and cares about it, is actively engaged in learning, and does his homework at least one hour every school day, demonstrates his own internal commitment to learning. By the same token, a child who expresses the importance of helping other people, who acts on her convictions, and tells the truth even when it is not easy, is displaying positive personal values that you know will ensure her success wherever she goes.

Planning ahead and knowing how to make choices are two of the social competencies included as definite assets for a young person to have. Likewise, having empathy and friendship skills, a sense of personal power, self-esteem, and a sense of purpose serves them well. You can easily imagine such a young person having a strong, positive identity.

Now that we know what the major factors are which contribute to young people thriving, we can all move more closely in the direction of playing our part to help ensure that happening . After all, it is easy to see how important the above assets are, and it is always a pleasure when we meet a young person who has them!



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