Adolescent Assets: A "Glass Half Full" View of Youth

In the late 1990’s, a group of researchers decided to turn the telescope on youth 180°. Rather than viewing adolescents and teens as problems to be solved, as had been the traditional approach, these researchers started to change the paradigm to considering this demographic segment as assets to be managed, nurtured and leveraged. And, based on this research, youth-serving programs responded by changing their approaches to these young people.

Hallelujah! Imagine the impact on a 12-year-old of encountering an adult who assumed he was talented, smart and had a promising future, rather than assuming he was ignorant, deficient and destined for trouble. What if, as an impressionable adolescent, someone gave you a vision of yourself as a successful, contributing adult citizen, and then was willing to put in the time to make sure you got there?

Thankfully, many youth-serving organizations in this country have adopted this “youth as promise” methodology. Organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Girl Scouts USA, 4-H, Girls, Inc, and Big Brothers Big Sisters, focus their out-of-school programs around just such a positive youth development model.

A May 2008 study by the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University and the National 4-H Council identifies “5 C’s” of Positive Youth Development. They are:
Competence: Positive view of one’s actions in specific areas, including social, academic, cognitive, health, and vocational. Social competence refers to interpersonal skills (e.g., conflict resolution). Academic competence refers to school performance as shown, in part, by school grades, attendance, and test scores. Cognitive competence refers to cognitive abilities (e.g., decision making). Health competence involves using nutrition, exercise, and rest to keep oneself fit. Vocational competence involves work habits and explorations of career choices.
Confidence: An internal sense of overall positive self-worth and self-efficacy.
Connection: Positive bonds with people and institutions that are reflected in exchanges between the individual and his or her peers, family, school, and community in which both parties contribute to the relationship.
Character: Respect for societal and cultural norms, possession of standards for correct behaviors, a sense of right and wrong (morality), and integrity.
Caring/Compassion: A sense of sympathy and empathy for others.

Anything strike you about this list? It seems to me these are the same 5 C’s that are present in successful adults, not just successful adolescents. And while one might look at this list and say, “duh!” try to pull the list out of your brain the next time you pass an adolescent in the urban core of your community. Are the 5 C’s top of mind for us then? They certainly need to be. And then maybe we need to think about what we might do to facilitate what this same study calls, “The Big Three” for those same youth. That is, providing these youngsters with:

• Positive and sustained relationships between youth and adults.
• Activities that build important life skills.
• Opportunities to use these life skills as both participants and as leaders in valued community activities.

If your current view of 13 year olds is that they are “trouble looking for a place to happen,” please check out a youth-serving organization in your community today. Since these people are the leaders of the future—that is, our future—maybe now is the time to turn our telescopes around.

Caroline Heine

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jun 18, 2008 in Youth | Permalink | Comment