Although there is increasing evidence that religion and spirituality can protect young people from problem behaviors, increase resilience, and promote thriving, the mechanisms underlying this association are unclear. The developmental assets framework offers a tool for exploring these links. Developed by Search Institute in the 1990s as a synthesis of research in adolescent development, prevention, resilience, and related fields, the framework identifies 40 experiences, relationships, opportunities, skills, and other qualities that form a foundation for healthy development.
Support 1. Family support 2. Positive family communication 3. Other adult relationships 4. Caring neighborhood 5. Caring school climate 6. Parent involvement in schooling Empowerment 7. Community values youth 8. Youth as resources 9. Service to others 10. Safety Boundaries and Expectations 11. Family boundaries 12. School boundaries 13. Neighborhood boundaries 14. Adult role models 15. Positive peer influence 16. High expectations Constructive Use of Time 17. Creative activities 18. Youth programs 19. Religious community 20. Time at home
Commitment to Learning 21. Achievement motivation 22. School engagement 23. Homework 24. Bonding to school 25. Reading for pleasure Positive Values 26. Caring 27. Equality and social justice 28. Integrity 29. Honesty 30. Responsibility 31. Restraint Social Competencies 32. Planning and decision making 33. Interpersonal competence 34. Cultural competence 35. Resistance skills 36. Peaceful conflict resolution Positive Identity 37. Personal power 38. Self-esteem 39. Sense of purpose 40. Positive view of personal future
Studies of adolescents across North America show that developmental assets are a powerful predictor of their health and well-being, regardless of their race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender. The more assets that young people have, the less likely they are to engage in a wide range of high-risk behaviors (e.g., substance use, violence, and antisocial behavior), and the more likely they are to engage in thriving behaviors (e.g., valuing diversity, exhibiting leadership, and serving others). In addition, developmental assets are associated with religious and spiritual development on conceptual, empirical, and application levels.
In addition to the obvious connection to the religious community asset (#19), the connections between developmental assets and spiritual development are evident when one recognizes spiritual development as involving a search for connectedness, meaning, purpose, and contribution. Explicitly relevant assets include (see Table 1 service to others (9), caring (26), equality and social justice (27), sense of purpose (39), and positive view of personal future (40).EMPIRICAL
Religious adolescents report consistently higher access to developmental assets, engage in fewer risk behaviors, and report higher levels of thriving indicators. Adolescents who are active in a faith community have, on average, five more developmental assets than those who are not active. In addition, the more assets that young people experience, the greater the likelihood that they are to participate in religious community and to place high importance on religion and spirituality. It is likely that developmental assets mediate the influence of religion. This role may be explained in part by the consistent expectations to contribute and to maintain a positive moral lifestyle that are embedded within religious traditions and communities, the intergenerational and peer support that young people experience, and the sense of meaning and purpose that shape a positive identity and spiritual life.
In addition to its role in examining the relationship between religion and spirituality and overall healthy development, the asset framework has been widely adopted as a tool to assist faith communities in understanding and strengthening their roles in nurturing young people's faith and spiritual lives in the context of overall healthy development. In addition to the pilot projects and resources developed by Search Institute to promote this application, a number of other organizations, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have utilized the asset framework as a tool for strengthening their engagement with children, youth, and families.