We have tomatillos growing in our garden. They can bear a lot of fruit, but the plants need support – not just a stake, but rather a kind of scaffold. The branches stretch out in all directions, and can’t hold the weight of all the growing fruit. Young people need a scaffolding environment around them in order to grow up healthy and whole. Friends, family, school, adults, neighbourhood, online, recreation, work – all of these can be environments that help of hinder.

The Search Institute in the US has researched the developmental assets of young people for over three decades. Their most well-known work identified 40 assets of young people that required positive support in order to grow. 20 internal assets and 20 external assets. The external framework of a supportive community relates to the internal strengths that are being built.

In a few decades of working in the church and with community groups, this is the most helpful framework that I have found for talking about the well-being of young people in ways that can connect young people themselves, community groups, churches, schools and families.

The 40 assets have been grouped into 8 areas. While the language may not sound ‘youth-friendly’, that is precisely what the research and underlying learnings contain – guidance for practical, relational and environmental support.

Internal Assets

  • Support
  • Empowerment
  • Boundaries & Expectations
  • Constructive Use of Time

External Assets

  • Commitment to Learning
  • Positive Values
  • Social Competencies
  • Positive Identity

Search Institute’s more recent work has focused on developmental relationships. This research hones in on five areas to assist families, schools and others to provide the environments in which young people can flourish.

  • Express Care – show me that I matter to you
  • Challenge Growth – push me to keep getting better
  • Provide Support – help me to complete tasks and achieve goals
  • Share Power – treat me with respect and give me a say
  • Expand Possibilities – connect me with people and places that broaden my world

I am part of a network of Australian trainers in the developmental assets framework, people who have completed train the trainer sessions with Search Institute. We have conducted training with churches, schools and other organisations. Australian research has also been undertaken with the assets framework and more broadly in terms of the resilience of young people through Thriving Youth Australia.

Please contact me if you are interested in learning about developmental assets and relationships for young people.