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Your Letters: Build 'developmental assets' in kids

You can make a difference for kids!

Many things you do -- or could do -- every day make a big difference for kids. How? By building "developmental assets," the 40 essential building blocks that children and teenagers need as a foundation for growing up. These 40 assets identified by the Search Institute have been shown to have a positive impact on young people's lives. The asset concept is based on common sense: Young people need positive external and internal strengths to succeed in life. And, most important, they need people to help nurture these assets.

Though we cannot create a perfect world for our youth, we can help provide opportunities, skills, relationships and self-perceptions that all young people deserve. That foundation of strengths will then help them navigate and thrive in a world that isn't perfect.

The Search Institute has identified six principles to help think about possible asset-building:

1. Everyone can build assets.

2. All young people need assets.

3. Strong relationships are necessary for asset building.

4. Asset building is an ongoing process that begins at birth and continues through high school and beyond!

5. Consistent messages about what is important and expected of youth, from their families, schools, communities, media and others is critical.

6. It is important to repeat messages often. This reinforces assets across the years and in all areas of a person's life.

What are the benefits of building more assets in youth? Search Institute research has shown that the more assets young people have, the less likely they are to engage in many high-risk behaviors. Assets also promote academic success, increase civic engagement and divert youth from risky behaviors. Assets give youth the strengths they need to make positive choices in life. All of these make our communities stronger too!

What are some examples of asset building activities?

• Greeting youth by name when you see them

• Congratulating kids when they do something well

• Asking for young people's opinions and listening to them

• Being a good role model

• Treating kids with respect

• Setting boundaries and limits

• Encouraging kids to do and be their best

• Reading and learning with them

We need to see our young people as our responsibility! Think about the people that showed you they cared and encouraged you to do your best when you were growing up -- whose lives can you touch? For more information about building assets, visit or email

Heidi Happel