Developmental Assets for Teens

Young people are constantly expected to make big decisions. What classes should you take? How do you handle cyber bullying? What do you do when school is out for the summer – or even over for good? Thinking of our own opportunities and choices that we’ve encountered in our own lives can help give us a better perspective on the influence we, as adults, have on teens. Who do you remember or who is helping guide you now? It might have been something seemingly small that made all the difference. While it’s the job of each teen to sort out the answer to life’s difficult questions, you can help by providing a positive, supportive role model through providing teens with character-building developmental assets.

Never heard of development assets? Created by The Search Institute, a nonprofit group dedicated to supporting healthy communities for youth, the Forty Developmental Assets provide a guiding framework in the form of a check list of behaviors and personality traits to help teens avoid risky behavior and grow into healthy, compassionate, and civic minded adults. The 40 Internal and External Assets are categorized as:

  • Support
  • Empowerment
  • Boundaries and Expectations
  • Constructive Use of Time
  • Commitment to Learning
  • Positive Values
  • Social Competencies
  • Positive Identity

Research has shown that youth with the fewer assets are more likely to engage in patterns of high-risk behavior. On the other hand, having more assets increases the chances that young people will have positive attitudes and behaviors. For example, the average GPA for students with 0-10 assets was 2.1, going up steadily with each increase in the level of assets.

In addition to families and schools, public libraries are positioned as one of the best places in the community for a teen to safely interact with their community and gain these critical assets. Libraries play a key role in building assets in youth by:

  • Making connections and fostering meaningful relationships
  • Building skills for future success
  • Providing opportunity for meaningful involvement in the community
  • Recognizing youth for their contributions to the community
  • Creating a supportive environment for learning and self-discovery

These assets can be gained through engaging in hands-on library activities such as:

  • Building research skills
  • Volunteering
  • Using the computer for Internet browsing or building their first resume
  • Researching special interests and helpful aids like the best colleges and universities and how get student financial aid
  • Reading a book from a display of on positive social and emotional skills
  • Attending a program with friends based on their likes and hobbies
  • Taking on a leadership role within the library’s Teen Advisory Group!

For more information about the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets, including resources you can implement in your own family or organization, visit:


Krista King-Oaks has worked in public libraries for the past ten years, where she started out as a volunteer tutor and reading buddy while in high school. She is currently the Teen Librarian at the Main Library of Boone County Public Library and the co-convener of SWON Libraries Teen Services Special Interest Group. Krista is always happy to discuss all things youth services and is available for training opportunities; she can be contacted at


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