Predicting Positive Outcomes for Adolescents
What do we know about factors in adolescents' lives that promote optimal behavioral outcomes? Although high self-esteem, low feelings of anxiety or alienation, and frequent participation in extracurricular activities are commonly assumed to protect adolescents from problem behaviors, in fact these factors do not predict fewer problem behaviors in adolescence (Gottfredson, 2001). Instead, research shows that both internal and external assets relate to positive outcomes; they protect adolescents from high-risk behaviors, enhance the likelihood of engaging in positive behaviors, and promote resilience in the face of adversity. The more protective factors an adolescent has working in his or her favor, the more likely he or she is to avoid problem behaviors. Adolescents without the benefit of these protective factors are not doomed to poor outcomes, but they may face greater challenges.
Some of the most important assets for youth are the ones they carry within themselves. Four key internal assets identified by the Minneapolis Search Institute (Benson, Scales, Leffert, & Roehlkepartain, 1999) include
- a commitment to lifelong learning and education,
- positive values that guide future choices,
- social competences to build relationships and make wise decisions, and
- positive identity in the form of a strong sense of self-worth.
These assets result from a community's commitment to actively promote them. When families, schools, media, religious institutions, and neighborhoods work together continuously, youth have the greatest chance of benefiting from these supportive features.
The remaining assets, or predictors of positive outcomes, may be considered external assets since they reside outside the adolescent. These external assets are connected through their common offerings of support, feelings of empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and a constructive use of time.
Peers and friends provide important sources of self-validation, cooperation, mutual respect, and security (Newcomb & Bagwell, 1996). These relationships are especially important in adolescents' lives because they represent voluntary relationships where members are on equal levels in terms of cognitive development and social power. This context is ideal for providing mutual support and for developing important conflict resolution skills within a safe environment.
Parents can also be developmental assets for adolescents. Extensive research has shown that authoritative parenting, or parenting that combines warmth with structure and rules, is related to the best outcomes for adolescents (Steinberg, 2001). Adolescents with authoritative parents are less likely to engage in problem behavior, including drug and alcohol use, and delinquency. These adolescents also enjoy better mental health, including higher self-esteem and lower rates of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, they achieve more in school than adolescents with parents who do not employ this combination of warmth and structure.
Although middle school and high school students generally view teachers with greater mistrust and find fewer opportunities to establish relationships with teachers than they did as elementary school students (Eccles et al., 1993), teachers remain important influences in adolescents' lives. Support from teachers is unique from both parent and peer support in that it relates to interest in attending class, pursuing academic goals, and adhering to rules and norms (Wentzel, 1998). Furthermore, adolescents who perceive their teachers as supportive are more likely to behave prosocially and to engage in behaviors that promote their learning (Wentzel & Battle,2001).
Other adults in adolescents' lives may also act as developmental assets. Grandparents, mentors, coaches, or neighbors can all provide guidance for adolescents. Especially in the absence of a strong parent-adolescent relationship, other adults may fill this gap and provide important support.
© ______ 2008, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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