Kasserian ingera?Is a traditional greeting of the Masai people of Kenya and Tanzania. Instead of saying “How are you?” they greet with “How are the children?” The typical response is, “Sapati ingera” (“All the children are well”). What would your response be? Perhaps some of the children are well? Is that good enough?
The question of why some kids have a fairly easy time growing up, while others struggle, why some get involved in dangerous activities, while others lead productive lives and why some beat the odds and others get trapped are usually answered by focusing on problems such as poor choices due to socioeconomic status, lack of supportive families, or being surrounded by bad influences. What if we decided to look for other answers –answers that would tell us how kids prevail, not fail.
The Search Institute in Minneapolis did just that when developing what are now called the 40 Developmental Assets. Their approach to answering the questions became upbeat, optimistic, hopeful, they highlighted what was right with youth. What they found was that assets protect and empower youth and their effects are cumulative. That means the more assets a youth has, the less likely they are to struggle and more likely they are to succeed in life.
The 40 Developmental Assets are grouped into two main types: External and Internal. The external assets are the good things youth need in their life and include: Support, Empowerment, Boundaries and Expectations, and Constructive Use of Time. They are the positive developmental experiences provided to all youth by communities including families, schools, neighborhoods, organizations, religious institutions, government, health care, law enforcement, civic groups, community foundations, businesses, and media. A strong community of caring adults—providing support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and opportunities for enriching activities—helps young people develop skills they need to succeed.
Creating a strong foundation in a young person’s life doesn’t have to be difficult or overwhelming. Taking time, remaining patient, and giving a whole lot of love and caring will take you far. For most young people, their family is the center of their lives. Show your children you love them, and also value each one of them as individuals. Clearly communicate to one another your family’s values, boundaries, and expectations (as well as those of the community). Provide constructive, enriching opportunities for growth through creative activities, youth programs, and quality time at home. Give young people the appropriate amount of freedom to make their own decisions depending on their ages, but also offer options along the way.
The next time someone asks “How are you?” my hope is that you will think of the Masai’s traditional greeting “Kasserian ingera?- How are the children” instead. All may not be well with our children but it can get better. Change is possible, and the power rests in the people and places of community that join together to embrace, invest in, and engage with young people as resources and gifts. Perhaps someday we will be able to answer their greeting with “Sapati ingera – All the children are well.”
Want to know more about the 40 Developmental Assets and ideas for helping young people build them? Visit www.search-institute.org/assets.