YC Magazine highlights 40 Developmental Assets in each issue. These assets are evidence-based to positively contribute to the development of children across their lifespan.
esearch clearly shows that the more assets a young person has, the less likely they are to participate in risk-taking behaviors during adolescence including drug and alcohol use, violence, illicit drug use, and sexual activity. Sadly, the average young person has less than half of these assets according to Search Institute. This article is one in a series to highlight the eight categories of assets in order to more fully engage families, schools, agencies, businesses, and community members in ensuring our children experience as many assets as possible. EMPOWERMENT This developmental asset consists of the following four aspects: 1. COMMUNITY VALUES YOUTH 2. YOUTH AS RESOURCES 3. SERVICE TO OTHERS 4. SAFETY An important developmental need is to feel safe and valued. The empowerment asset focuses on how a community views youth and the opportunities they have to contribute to society in meaningful ways. Adults empower youth when youth feel they have meaningful roles to play in their families, schools, and communities. A teen may feel valued at home or in school, but feel ignored or even treated with hostility by adults in the community. This inconsistency would lessen a youth’s sense of empowerment and even undermine their sense of connection to their community. Ultimately, all adults have a role to play in empowering youth. Adults empower youth by ensuring that youth have a chance to add their voices to decisions that affect them and that they have opportunities to define and act on the priorities in their lives. In other words, youth who are empowered feel they can make a difference.
Research shows that youth who feel valued and useful show many positive outcomes including better mental health, more involvement in the community, and thinking through situations to determine the difference between right and wrong. In addition, empowerment is associated with reduced substance use, violence, and delinquency. Community Values Youth The key to helping youth feel empowered is adults believing in their capacity. However, the majority of youth report not experiencing empowerment. When programs do not enable youth to play meaningful roles, youth may drop out of or avoid those programs when given a choice. To truly empower them, we must give them the opportunity to participate in real decision making about the goals and objectives. If adults simply asked youth their opinions, really listened to them, and acted on those views and ideas, young people would not only view that as a major achievement, but we could obtain a lot of great ideas. Empowerment is built through daily experiences, affirming youth’s value, and simple gestures that communicate a desire for their contributions. Youth as Resources One of the greatest examples of using youth as resources was having 7th graders plan alcohol-free activities for their peers. It was found the young people who helped organize, versus ones who simply attended the events or did not participate, were significantly less likely to report using alcohol. It was also found that youth with lower than C averages in school wanted to volunteer in the community as much as students with better grades, but the community rarely asked those lower GPA students to contribute. People of all ages want to feel that they make a contribution and play a meaningful role in their community, whether at home, at school, or in the neighborhood. Adults can help youth serve as resources simply by asking them to share their opinions, skills, or knowledge, such as how to solve
a community problem or use technology. Other ideas include holding family meetings to develop a chore schedule with everyone’s input on their choices. Involving youth in planning events such as holiday celebrations, trips, menus, and even cooking help them feel their input matters. Service to Others Community service, volunteering, and service learning do more than allow youth to help the community—these activities also provide youth with the positive experiences, relationships, and connections that help them thrive. One reason youth may not serve is they feel their help isn’t welcome. A Gallup poll found that teens were four times more likely to volunteer if they were asked, but only half reported that they had been asked to help. Serving others doesn’t always mean taking on a big commitment—it can be as simple as picking up litter in the park, taking a meal to a sick neighbor, or helping a younger sibling with their homework. Youth benefit the most when they can “do” instead of just observe. Safety Feeling safe at home, at school, and in the community is necessary for young people’s health and wellbeing. There are multiple elements of safety for young people, all of which are important to help children thrive. These elements include safety from accidents and hazards, safety from crime and violence, and safety from bullying and harassment, just to name a few. Helping young people learn to manage their own safety and react in case of emergency will help them develop confidence and independence that empowers them to make the right choices. We must also avoid overstressing safety, which can lead youth to avoid healthy risks that help them grow. When youth have been empowered by families, schools, and communities, they are both the producers and the beneficiaries of community development, which is a winwin for all involved. ■