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Helping At-Risk Youth Build Developmental Assets

I’m sure when you think of “teenagers” there is a tinge of stress. We have all heard horror stories of the argumentative teenager with mood-swing and a know-it-all attitude.

Fortunately, most youth will be well-adjusted, happy, enjoy life, believe they can cope effectively with stress, and value school and work.

But, what about the smaller percentage who end up going down an unhealthy and risky path?

All youth can learn to be confident, connected, and contributing members of society, though at-risk youth are particularly in need of help with realigning their focus and values.

Thankfully, there is growing recognition that successful development includes both the absence of risk and the presence of positive attributes. This is what the field of positive youth development (PYD) emphasizes.

Problem-free does not necessarily equate to fully prepared for life. The idea becomes one where we can learn to help youth thrive instead of just survive.

PYD focuses on all youth; however, working with at-risk youth in this framework has particular benefits.

Results from a study of nearly 100,000 youth, in 200 communities, explore the implications of what are called “Development Assets.”

The goal is to build these developmental assets, which are categorized into twenty external and twenty internal assets, each grouped into four categories.

The research reveals that the more assets one has, the less risky and more positive behavior exhibited.

The external assets or health promoting features of the environment include:

  • Support (e.g., family, neighborhood, and school support)
  • Empowerment (e.g., opportunities for youth engagement)
  • Boundaries and expectations (e.g., models, rules, and consequences for behavior)
  • Constructive use of time (e.g., availability of programs and activities for young people)

These can be cultivated by promoting connectedness to the community. Youth have a desire to be a part of their surrounding community and can be encouraged through service learning and youth programs.

The internal assets which relate to skills, values, and self-perception include:

  • Commitment to learning (e.g., motivation, engagement, reading for pleasure)
  • Positive values (e.g., caring, integrity, personal responsibility)
  • Social competencies (e.g., cultural competence, peaceful conflict resolution)
  • Positive identity (e.g., self-esteem, sense of purpose)

Internal assets can be promoted by helping youth recognize the inherent value in learning and personal growth. Helping youth build on strengths and cultivate leadership skills is also important for development.

When approaching youth, whether in the home, school, or community, it is important we recognize that youth need our help to cultivate and incorporate these assets.

Having clear role models and a support system working to build these assets in our family and surrounding community can allow for the development of healthy social values.


Bradshaw, C. P., Brown, S. J., & Hamilton, S. F. (2006). Applying Positive Youth Development and Life-Course Research to the Treatment of Adolescents Involved with the Judicial System. Journal of Addictions and Offender Counseling, 1(27), 2-14.

Photo credit: vanessa_hutd

Helping At-Risk Youth Build Developmental Assets

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2012). Helping At-Risk Youth Build Developmental Assets. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Mar 2012
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