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A Framework for Raising
Well-Balanced Children



Children may be pampered with a plethora of gadgets, but they are not nurtured in a way that helps them develop into responsible and caring citizens, argues Dr. Peter L. Benson. All segments of society must commit to childrens well being, he argues. Included: Information about 40 Developmental Assets.

While Americans may say that children are the countrys most precious asset, the U.S. falls short in providing for the well-being of children and adolescents, according to Dr. Peter L. Benson, president of Search Institute, a nonprofit organization which provides leadership, knowledge, and resources to promote healthy children, youth, and communities, according to its Web site. Too many U.S. kids get involved with alcohol, sex, and tobacco at young ages, and live in poverty or unsafe conditions or attend unsafe schools, Dr. Benson maintains.

All segments of society, including schools, communities, businesses, and governments must work together to foster the sound physical and psychological development of children and adolescents, Dr. Benson wrote in his book, All Kids Are Our Kids: What Communities Must do to Raise Caring and Responsible Children and Adolescents.

Dr. Benson recommends using the 40 Personal Assets developed by Search Institute as a framework for raising successful, caring, capable young people.

Dr. Benson talked with Education World about why he thinks society has failed to sufficiently nurture its youngest members and the roles educators can continue to play in helping young people become successful adults.

Dr. Peter L. Benson

Education World: How can educators use this book?

Dr. Peter L. Benson: All Kids Are Our Kids presents a comprehensive formula for what young people need to succeed in school and in life. The formula is based on the concept of 40 Developmental Assets -- building blocks of development shown to enhance academic success, promote pro-social behavior, and reduce risky behavior. For young people to have the 40 assets (or most of them), families, neighborhoods, youth organizations, schools, faith communities, and citizens all must play a role. Conceptually, most of the asset-building capacity in communities lies beyond schools. I like to say that schools need to provide one fifth of the energy for asset-building, and community is responsible for four-fifths.

Educators can use the developmental assets model in three ways: To catalyze a community-wide movement to promote developmental assets (because the science is clear that asset-rich youth are much more likely to succeed in schools); to create an asset-building culture in schools; and to form the basis for a powerful approach to teacher professional development. On this latter point, we find that knowledge of the 40 assets helps teachers reclaim and celebrate their power in young peoples lives.

EW: What has been missing in the discussions about how to raise caring, responsible young adults?

"In the U.S., we know that most middle-school and high-school youth do not have sustained, multi-year relationships with adults who know, prize and nurture them.

Dr. Benson: The chatter about young people in America is dominated by deficit language. The idea here is that many see youth as problems to be fixed (versus resources to be nourished). So part of the issue is the lack of a vision for their positive development. The asset model is designed to provide a vocabulary for positive child and adolescent development that applies to all young people regardless of family income, race, ethnicity, and gender. The asset model simultaneously fills another void. In all communities, weve lost ways to unite our citizens around concepts of the common good. The asset model is designed to bring people together in common vision. This makes it so much more possible to re-create the kinds of communities that raise asset-rich youth.

EW: What is at the core of society's failure to nurture young people?

Dr. Benson: The disengagement of citizens from being in relationships with young people is one factor. The most crucial energy needed to build assets is embedding young people in sustained relationships with multiple caring and principled adults. In the U.S., we know that most middle-school and high-school youth do not have sustained, multi-year relationships with adults who know, prize and nurture them. An argument can be made that the U.S. is an age-segregated society in which adults expect hired guns, including teachers, to raise them [children]. We've got to solve this problem.

EW: Many educators now say they have practically taken on the role of raising children and teaching values and ideas that parents handled in the past. How, if at all, should educators change their roles in shaping young people?

Dr. Benson: Here's my advice to educators:

  • Choose to build meaningful relationships with students.
  • Advocate that schools examine their policies and culture to promote relationship-rich and asset-rich environments for all kids.
  • Join with others to call forth the asset-building power of the larger community.
"An argument can be made that the U.S. is an age-segregated society in which adults expect hired guns, including teachers, to raise them [children]. We've got to solve this problem.

EW: Young people get different messages about appropriate behavior and expectations from, for example, the media, schools, and parents. (An Education World columnist, Regina Barreca, wrote recently that Schools may be the last place where children learn that they can't have everything that they want the moment they want it.) How are kids supposed to internalize what is the right or better way to act?

Dr. Benson: One of the most powerful forces for healthy development is a harmony of voice. By this I mean that parents, schools, and other sectors share some common frame for what is in bounds and out-of-bounds. This harmony-of-voice can be re-created even in very diverse communities. All Kids Are Our Kids provides some useful examples for generating this community dialogue.

This e-interview with Dr. Peter L. Benson is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

 

Published 11/21/2006


 

 

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