Raising Successful Young People

Why do some teens thrive while others struggle? Researchers have found that the values children are raised with play a more important role in success than influences such as culture, socioeconomic background, race and the number of parents present.

The Search Institute in Minneapolis has studied since 1958 the factors that help young people thrive. In 1990, the group released a framework of 40 developmental assets, which it defines as “building blocks of healthy development.” According to the organization, 600 communities in 45 US states and five Canadian provinces have launched initiatives based on this list.

The original studies tried to determine factors that consistently led to improved academic learning, healthier relationships and pro-social choices, in addition to avoiding destructive behaviors.

Those factors fit into two primary categories:

  • External assets, which include support, empowerment, boundaries, and expectations, as well as constructive use of time.
  • Internal assets, which include commitment to learning, social competencies, positive values, and positive identity.

These categories break down further into more specific building blocks, such as family support, living in a caring neighborhood, safety and being of service.

Mapping Positive Outcomes for the Young

Even if you’re not a parent, consider your life in light of the assets. These questions will help you evaluate your experience:

  • How many of the self-driven, internal qualities are important to you?
  • Growing up, how much support did you get from family, school, and community?
  • Who were your role models?
  • What types of behaviors were expected of you?
  • What were consequences for your actions? Were they fair and appropriate?
  • Did the adults in your life practice what they preached?
  • What have the outcomes been?

Your history isn’t your destiny, and it’s possible to redirect your life positively.

Those of you hoping to lead young people to success aren’t navigating alone. Solid “road-tested” practices indicate that children are more likely to remain sober if their parents guide them regarding substance use, set good standards, are positive role models and are involved in their education.

Instilling Responsibility in Young People

Another perspective comes from New York Times columnist Ron Lieber, who writes about money, values, families and children.

When Lieber spoke on NPR’s Radio Times in February about his book, The Opposite of Spoiled, he said children need to understand the value of money and how to manage it. He sees this as a way of creating responsible adults.

He said he’s “identified a set of virtues and character traits — like modesty, patience, generosity, and perspective — that all parents hope that their kids will carry with them out into the world.”

Raising Adults — and Inoculating Against “Affluenza”

When children feel entitled to what they want and aren’t held accountable for their actions, they’re more prone to high risk behaviors, including substance abuse.

One such case involved Texas teen Ethan Couch, who killed four people and seriously injured two while driving intoxicated. He was sentenced to inpatient treatment and 10 years’ probation rather than jail time.

During his trial, a defense psychologist called Couch a victim of “affluenza”: The argument was that Couch’s wealthy parents hadn’t instilled in him an understanding of consequences because they gave him everything he wanted.

Contrast that attitude with that of a young woman who’d had a miscarriage. She told her therapist that although she grieved the loss of her baby, she understood that she and her boyfriend weren’t ready to be parents.

“When you have a baby, you aren’t raising a child,” she said. “You’re raising an adult.”


By Edie Weinstein, LSW

Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein1

There is still hope.

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