Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Positive Youth Development: An Integration of the Developmental Assets Theory and the Socio-Ecological Model

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Positive Youth Development: An Integration of the Developmental Assets Theory and the Socio-Ecological Model

Article excerpt


Background: Health problems such as sexually transmitted infections and diabetes continue to rise, especially among African American and Hispanic adolescents in low-income communities. Youth development programs are an effective public health response, benefiting participants, the programs that serve them, and their community. Purpose: To explore the efficacy of integrating the Developmental Assets (DA) and Socio-Ecological Model (SEM) in a pilot youth program, the Youth Health Action Board (YHAB). Methods: YHAB was created and implemented by youth. Its impact was examined through individual interviews to learn youth impressions of how their experience affected themselves and their community. Results: YHAB participants feel they personally grew through their experience of building external support in their community, increasing both internal and external DAs. Internal assets were dominant, however students benefited from external support and empowerment. Discussion: YHAB was a successful integration of the DA and SEM for youth development. Additional research could deepen findings and allow extrapolation to broader populations. Translation to Health Education Practice: YHAB program strength lies in its youth development process. Similar programs should look different in each community, as community and youth needs and resources shape program activities.


Serious health problems such as sexually transmitted infections, obesity and diabetes continue to rise among adolescents, especially among African Americans and Hispanics in low-income communities. (1-3) As the percent of low-income households continues to rise in the current economic recession, families face worsening health outcomes. (4) Other common trends in neighborhoods with populations living at and below poverty level include overcrowding in schools and high drop-out rates, conditions that perpetuate poor health behaviors due to limited education and resources. (4) Youth development programs are an effective public health response to these conditions. Such programs engage youth in identifying community needs and assets, and can address adolescent health through education, advocacy, and advisory roles?

The Search Institute's Framework of Developmental Assets is one model of assessing healthy youth development. It has been comprehensively reviewed, and 40 internal and external assets have been identified as the building blocks for that development. (6-12) Overall, assets are the relationships, skills, opportunities, and values that help youth foster resilience to high-risk environments, and promote thriving behaviors. (13) These findings are consistent with other research, which suggests "resilience is derived from three primary sources: (1) within-child factors, e.g., cognitive ability, self-control and positive temperament; (2) within-home factors, e.g., consistent parenting and secure attachment; and (3) outside-home factors, e.g., school environments that encourage socially appropriate behavior. (14) The more assets youth possess, the less likely they are to participate in high-risk behaviors and the more likely they are to demonstrate thriving behaviors. (13,16-18)

The ability for youth to develop assets is found to be true across racial and ethnic groups and socioeconomic levels. (6,10,15) As youth increase the number of assets, they also increase their maintenance of good health, value diversity and better their overall grade point averages. (6,10,13,16-17) Studies of the developmental assets have shown youth who reported more assets are less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, (8) participate in violence] be depressed or have suicidal thoughts (12) and delay sexual intercourse. (10) Typically sixth to twelfth grade youth display less than half of the 40 assets. Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between low socioeconomic status and stressors that hinder healthy adolescent development. …

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