Developmental Assets Hero

Developmental Assets

An introduction to Search Institute’s Developmental Assets Framework®, a foundational framework in positive youth development and the most frequently cited and widely utilized in the world.

The Developmental Assets® Framework

Young people are not problems to be solved. They are more than the challenges they face. Every single young person contains the seeds of success and thriving. However, it takes intentional effort by practitioners, educators, young people, families, mentors, and neighbors to cultivate healthy environments, provide the nutrients, and nurture those seeds so that all young people have opportunities to have a positive impact in the world.

Since the late 1980s, Search Institute researchers have been focusing on positive youth development. In 1990, that led us to create the Developmental Assets®, a research-based framework that identifies internal and external factors that are the essential building blocks for child and youth development, resilience, and thriving.

The Developmental Assets® Framework identifies 40 positive supports and strengths that young people need to succeed in families, schools, neighborhoods, and communities. The framework focuses on specific strengths that can be measured and built in families, schools, youth programs, faith communities, and other settings in communities to provide the experiences, opportunities, and relationships that children and adolescents need to be resilient and thrive. The framework is based on decades of research with millions of young people with diverse backgrounds, in many contexts and countries around the world.

The first 20 assets are external, meaning they are experiences and opportunities in their families, schools, youth programs, and communities. The other 20 assets are internal, meaning they are the personal skills, values, and self-perceptions young people need to make good choices, take responsibility for their own lives, be independent, and thrive.


Young People need to be surrounded by people who love, care for, appreciate, and accept them.


Young people need to feel valued and valuable. This happens when they feel safe and respected.

Boundaries and Expectations

Young people need clear rules, consistent consequences for breaking rules, and encouragement to do their best.

Constructive Use of Time

Young people need opportunities — outside of school — to learn and develop new skills and interests with other youth and adults.

Commitment to Learning

Young people need a sense of the lasting importance of learning and a belief in their own abilities.

Positive Values

Young people need to develop strong guiding values or principles to help them make healthy life choices

Social Competencies

Young people need the skills to interact effectively with others, to make difficult decisions, and to cope with new situations.

Positive Identity

Young people need to believe in their own self-worth and to feel they have control over the things that happen to them

Developmental Assets® Framework

40 research-based, positive experiences and qualities that influence young people’s development.

Developmental Assets, an Integrating Framework

The Developmental Assets Framework draws together the broad landscape of positive youth development, offering the big picture of what young people need to succeed. That wide-angle perspective is vital for understanding the interplay of multiple factors that matter across communities and within young people themselves.

In a TEDX talk, the late Peter Benson, former CEO of Search Institute, said that young people are not vessels to be filled but fires to be lit. It is up to adult educators, family members, neighbors, and practitioners to draw out the assets that already exist within and around young people.

Every young person has a deep well of strength and resilience within them. Of course, not all young people have equal access to the supports that nurture and grow that strength. Trauma, racism, and poverty are examples of the barriers that can create additional challenges for young people.

Search Institute’s three decades of research into positive youth development have yielded many important insights, expressed in our two main frameworks Developmental Assets® and Developmental Relationships. The two frameworks work together to help create a healthy relational ecosystem for young people.

Critical Action Areas

There are three critical action areas where Developmental Assets and developmental relationships can flourish.

  1. The ecology of development: Young people grow up in — and are shaped by — the people and places in their communities, starting with their families. Identifying the important strengths needed in this ecology is the focus of 20 External Developmental Assets identified in the framework.

  2. Youth as resources: Young people themselves also bring critical strengths to their own development and to contribute to their families and communities. Twenty of these strengths are identified in the Internal Developmental Assets.

  3. The key resource for development: If external assets identify elements of the ecology of development, developmental relationships are the key resource for positive youth development—the roots through which young people process and internalize their experiences and opportunities within that ecology.

Using the Frameworks Together

The Developmental Assets Framework and the Developmental Relationships Framework overlap, but they are not interchangeable. They provide different entry points and arenas for understanding and encouraging positive youth development.

Considering external assets helps us understand how to identify and activate the places and people in young people’s lives who are resources for their development, resilience, and thriving.

A focus on internal assets helps identify the internal competencies, commitments, and positive identities that can be amplified by engaging with young people in positive ways.

Positive, well-rounded developmental relationships create fertile ground for individuals and groups of young people to engage with each other, their schools, and their communities.

Getting Started

A number of tools exist for identifying developmental assets and supporting leaders, organizations, and individuals in taking action.

Measuring Assets

How do we know what young people need to succeed? How do we know how they experience life in their families, schools, programs, and communities? We ask them. And we listen.

Intentional asset-building begins by understanding young people’s experiences, strengths, and challenges. Our measures and approaches leverage actionable data and affirming processes inspire hope and drive action to impact young people's lives. As you embark on your asset-building journey, these surveys help you understand young people’s current experiences and prepare you to work together to create a strong, resilient school, organization, or community.

The Attitudes & Behaviors (A&B) Survey

This survey gives a snapshot of the current experiences and perspectives of your adolescent youth in schools, programs, or communities.

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The Developmental Assets Profile (DAP]

This survey profile is a reliable and valid assessment of the strengths, supports, and social-emotional factors that are essential for young people’s success in school and life.

Learn More

The Youth and Program Strengths (YAPS) Survey

This survey evaluates the quality of an in school- or community-based out-of-school time program.

Learn More


Developmental Assets can provide a shared language and purpose for organizations working to create fertile ground for positive youth development. Search Institute offers the following workshops for various stakeholders.

Practical Resources for Building Assets

  • Essentials of Asset Building Resource Library provides trainers and facilitators with continued learning and supplemental resources for conducting two of Search Institute’s core workshops, Everyone’s An Asset Builder and Sharing the Asset Message.

  • Take it Personally is a workbook that contains everything individuals need to make a stronger commitment to children and teenagers.

  • 40 Ways Anyone Can Build Assets will inspire people with their easy, everyday ways to build assets.