Building blocks for healthier youth

Active engagement in learning is one of the 40 developmental assets

The AstraZeneca Young Health Program, IM40, is designed to give adolescents the tools they need to be healthier and to live up to their potential in school and in life.

At the heart of this program is a set of 40 developmental assets – or building blocks – of healthy development. The non-profit Search Institute identified these assets based on its 50+ years of experience helping motivate and equip young people and the caring adults around them on ways to be more successful.

What is a developmental asset?

Search Institute’s Gene Roehlkepartain characterizes them as “common sense” positive experi­ences and characteristics that young people need and deserve. Created in the 1990s, the framework is grounded in research on child and adolescent development, risk prevention, and resiliency. The 40 developmental assets are comprised of 20 external and 20 internal assets. 

External assets are related to the environment, resources and support system around the youth.  They are organized into four categories: support, empowerment, boundaries & expectations and constructive use of time. Some of these are: 

  • Caring neighborhood:  Young person experiences caring neighbors
  • Service to others: Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week
  • Family boundaries: Family has clear rules and consequences, and monitors the young person’s whereabouts
  • Youth programs: Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in community organizations

Internal assets are those personal values, competencies and experiences that come from within. They are organized into four categories: commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies and positive identity. Some of these are: 

  • Reading for pleasure: Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week
  • Honesty: Young person “tells the truth even when it is not easy”
  • Planning and decision making: Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices
  • Personal power: Young person feels he or she has control over “things that happen to me”

For a full list of assets, visit 

Do they work? 

Michael Graves, the executive director of the YMCA of Delaware, has been using the Search Institute model for more than 15 years with much success. The assets are a core part of programs his team leads, such as the YMCA’s Black Achievers Program, that provide youth with positive adult role models and help make them effective decision makers. Graves says that youth don’t need every single one of the assets, “they just need a bunch of them and, as community leaders, we need to be looking at this list of 40 items and making sure the services and programs we’re providing deliver on those assets.”

Surveys of almost 150,000 students in grades 6–12 conducted by Search Institute show a striking link between the assets and adolescent behavior. For example, 29 percent of students surveyed with up to ten assets reported taking good care of their bodies by eating healthy foods and exercising regularly, as compared to 91 percent of students surveyed with thirty to forty assets.

What’s your number?

Thinking back to your middle school days, how many assets would you have? Take the asset quiz at It’s a great way to start the conversation about ways we as individuals and as a community can be assets for our youth.