Young people are not problems to be solved. Nor are they defined by their risks or challenges. Every person has a wealth of strength and resilience, both within themselves and in their families and communities.
But not everyone has equal access to the supports that nurture and grow that strength and resilience. Trauma, poverty, racism, and other barriers have disproportionate and lasting impacts on some young people’s abilities to thrive.
What do young people need from the adults in their families, schools, and communities that will help them succeed in school, work, and life?
What inner and outer resources do they already have? And how can we create the kinds of relationships that take root and help them grow?
Search Institute’s three decades of research into positive youth development have yielded many important insights, chiefly expressed in two primary frameworks that anchor our research and practice with young people around the world.
When combined, these frameworks provide a powerful set of ideas, tools, and strategies for bolstering positive youth development among young people from many backgrounds and circumstances. First, though, let’s unpack each of the dimensions:
External assets identify the supports and opportunities youth need from the people who influence them and places where they spend time while growing up. These include consistently experiencing:
Internal assets are the personal skills, commitments, and values young people need to make good choices, to take responsibility for their lives, to contribute to others, their community, and society, and to live independent and full lives. These assets are:
The third critical action area is identified through the Developmental Relationships Framework. It consists of five elements—expressed in 20 actions—that make relationships powerful in young people’s lives. Those five elements are:
Each of these frameworks, and others, was developed for a specific purpose. Though they overlap, they are not interchangeable. Instead, each offers a specific strategy to advance positive youth development that taps a distinct resource:
While these frameworks are broad and valuable, other dimensions of development need to be considered as well. There are systemic barriers that prevent some youth from accessing assets and relationships due to their race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, abilities, and other individual differences that have not been accepted by dominant cultures. We also need to increase awareness and acknowledge the many strengths, experiences, and needs of youth and their communities across diverse populations and contexts. We are in the process of revising these and other areas of research as we continue updating, expanding, and sharing knowledge, as well as improving access to tools to support youth-serving organizations, communities, practitioners, and families so all young people can thrive.
So much is possible when we work together to understand what young people need in order to become their best selves. But how do we know what young people need to succeed? How do we know how they experience life in their families, schools, and communities? We ask them. And we listen to them.
Schools, youth-serving organizations, coalitions, and programs can tap into the frameworks and their proven measures to help them better understand young people’s lives. The strengths, supports, and resources provided by these frameworks can spark the dialogue needed to build a roadmap of actions you can follow to support young people in achieving success.