URC

Attitudes Toward Positive Developmental Assets of Students
Attending a Rural Northeast Missouri Middle School

Alexis Hackett, Kaitlyn McManus
Kendra Woolman, Brandon Stewart

Truman State University

Key Words: Assets, Middle-school students, Rural

Abstract

Developmental Assets are 40 protective characteristics that help youth avoid risky health behaviors. The more assets youth have, the less likely they are to engage in risky health behaviors like drug use and violence. Youth from an area of a state with some of the highest proportions of substance abuse and violence were surveyed on their attitudes toward these positive developmental assets. Although substance abuse and violence is increasing as these respondents matriculate through school, their highest-scoring assets of positive values, positive identity, and social competencies may act as protective factors or buffers against their participation in these risky behaviors.

Introduction

Risk and protective factors affect the likelihood that youth will engage in unsafe behaviors such as tobacco and alcohol use (Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller, 1992). For youth in one small, rural, Northeast MO county, alcohol past 30-day use has drastically increased every year as students matriculate from 6th grade (5.67%) to 8th grade (17.33%) (Adair County Drug Coalition, 2010), 30-day tobacco and binge alcohol use rates are higher than the state average (Behavioral Health Epidemiology Workgroup, 2013), and the average age of initiation for tobacco and alcohol in the county is 10-12 years of age (Adair County Drug Coalition, 2010; Behavioral Health Epidemiology Workgroup, 2013) and trending downward. Child poverty level, number of juvenile law violations, and out-of-home placements are higher than the state average (Office of Social and Economic Analysis, 2012; MO Department of Health and Senior Services, 2012; MO Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, n.d.). Youth in this county reported making fun of others in higher proportions than youth in other areas, and the area possesses the second-highest proportion of youth who were hurt by another student through text messaging or bullying. The area also possesses the highest proportion of students who reported being threatened or injured by a weapon on school grounds (MO Department of Mental Health, 2010).

Developmental Assets are 40 experiences and characteristics (protective factors) that help youth avoid these risky health behaviors. The more assets youth have, the less likely they are to engage in risky health behaviors like drug use and violence, and assets are better predictors of high-risk involvement than any other factors. Needs assessments using the developmental asset framework can help determine priority areas for youth substance abuse prevention interventions (Search Institute, 2013).

The 40 Developmental Assets are divided into two categories: external assets and internal assets. Outside influences that positively affect youth are called external assets. The 20 external assets are divided into four categories: support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and constructive use of time. Support contains the following assets: family support, positive family communication, other adult relationships, caring neighborhood, caring school climate and parent involvement in schooling. Empowerment contains the following assets: community values youth, youth as resources, service to others, and safety. Boundaries and expectations contain the following assets: family boundaries, school boundaries, neighborhood boundaries, adult role models, positive peer influence, and high expectations. Constructive use of time contains the following assets: creative activities, youth programs, religious community, and time at home. High numbers of external assets possessed by youth show they recognize how their families and communities assist them in growing healthy (Search Institute, 2014).

The second category, internal assets, includes intrinsic characteristics. The 20 internal assets are divided into four categories: commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identities. Commitment to learning contains the following assets: achievement motivation, school engagement, homework, bonding to school, and reading for pleasure. Positive values contain the following assets: caring equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility, and restraint. Social competencies contain the following assets: planning and decision making, interpersonal competence, cultural competence, resistance skills, and peaceful conflict resolutions. Positive identity contains the following assets: personal power, self-esteem, sense of purpose, and positive view of personal future. Possession of high numbers of internal assets assists youth in making healthy, positive life decisions, even in the midst of negative peer pressure (Search Institute, 2014).

The percentage of youth who report possessing each asset was surveyed nationwide, and the external asset that was reported most frequently was family support as 70 percent of respondents reported possessing a positive family life with love and support. The asset that was reported least in the external category was creative activities; only 20 percent of respondents reported spending three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in the arts. The internal asset that was reported most frequently was positive view of personal future; 74 percent of respondents reported being optimistic about their future. The internal asset that was reported the least was planning and decision making; only 30 percent of youth report knowing how to make healthy decisions (Search Institute, 2014).

Survey results indicate, that on average, youth living in rural areas report experiencing fewer assets (19.2) than those in urban areas (19.4). The results also indicate that females possess, on average, 2.9 more assets than males. As grade level increases, generally, the amount of assets reported decreases. Assets tend to decrease continuously throughout high school with the average senior in high school possessing only 18.3 assets. There is no correct amount of assets for youth to have, but 31 seems to be the number needed to protect youth from high-risk behaviors. Only percent of youth, however, possess 31 or more assets, with the average number of assets reported as only about 19 (Search Institute, 2014).

The higher the level of assets possessed, the less likely young people are to participate in underage drinking, tobacco use, illicit drug use, violence, anti-social behaviors, and sexual activities (Search Institute, 2014). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to assess the attitudes toward these assets of students attending a rural middle school in an area of a state with some of the highest proportions of youth reporting substance abuse and violence and to use the asset framework to determine priority areas for substance abuse prevention.

Methods

Sample                                                       

All 176 7th grade students in a small, rural, Northeast Missouri middle school were asked to participate in the survey.  Surveys were completed by 136 respondents (77% response rate); mostly male (80/136, 59%) and the majority White (112/136, 83%).

Instrument

The Attitudes Toward Assets Survey was created to assess attitudes toward positive developmental assets of youth. The instrument, based on Search Institute's framework (Search Institute, 2002), included 50 statements about how strongly participants agreed (five-point Likert-type scale: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Undecided, Agree, or Strongly Agree) with their achievement in each asset category (Support, Empowerment, Boundaries, Constructive use of Time, Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies, and Positive Identity) as well as four demographic questions.

Procedure

After Institutional Review Board approval, parental and school administration consent, and student assent; 77 percent (136/176) of students in a small, rural, Northeast Missouri middle school participated in the Attitudes Toward Assets Survey during homeroom period February 2014. No names or identifiers were placed on the surveys. The surveys were collected by the homeroom teacher, placed in a clasped envelope, and given to the researcher. As soon as the survey responses were recorded, the surveys were shredded.

Analysis

Descriptive statistics and a summated score were calculated for all survey items on the Likert-Type scale. Grand means of all eight asset categories (Support, Empowerment, Boundaries/Expectations, Constructive use of Time, Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies, and Positive Identity) were calculated. Higher scores indicated more health-conducive attitudes.

Results

As seen in Table 1, measures of central tendency and dispersion were calculated for the total asset summated scores, which resulted in a mean score of 205.26. The maximum score for the total asset profile was 250. Mean scores for each asset category were also calculated from the grand mean and include, from highest to lowest: Positive Values (4.37, SD=.75),  Positive Identity (4.23, SD=.70), Social Competencies (4.20, SD=.55),  Boundaries/Expectations (4.12, SD=.51), Support (4.11, SD=.58), Commitment to Learning (3.92, SD=.77), Empowerment (3.86, SD=.59), and Constructive use of Time (3.72, SD=.81).

Table 1.0
Mean Scores for Asset Categories
  N Minimum Score Maximum Score        Mean Standard Deviation
Support 135 1.6 5.0 4.11 .58
Empowerment 135 1.7 5.0 3.86 .59
Boundaries and Expectations 135 2.5 5.0 4.12 .51
Constructive Use of time 135 1.0 5.0 3.72 .81
Commitment to Learning 135 1.4 5.0 3.92 .77
Positive Values 135 1.8 10.3 4.37 .75
Social Competencies 135 2.7 5.0 4.20 .55
Positive Identity 135 1.3 5.5 4.23 .70
  
Analysis of Total Asset Profile Scores
N Minimum score Maximum score Mean Range Standard Deviation Possible Scores
135 107.00 250.00 205.26 143.00 23.77 50-250

As seen in Table 2, the top five  survey items respondents most often rated as "Strongly Agree" included: "I believe it is important not to use drugs" (78.8%, 108/135), "I want to do well in school" (73.0%, 100/135), "My parents/guardians encourage me to do well" (71.5%, 98/135), "I believe it is important to not use alcohol" (70.1%, 96/135). The top 5 survey items respondents most often rated as "Strongly Disagree" included: "Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring my behavior" (21.9%, 30/132), "I read for pleasure three or more hours each week" (15.3%, 21/135), "I serve in the community one or more hours each week" (14.6%, 20/135), "My neighbors encourage and support me" (13.9%, 19/134), and "I spend three hours or more each week  in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts" (13.1%, 18/136). Mean scores for each of the survey items was also calculated. The highest mean scores reported were for the items "I can accept and take personal responsibility" (4.80) followed by "I believe it is important not to use drugs" (4.69). The lowest mean scores reported were for the items "I serve in the community one hour or more each week" (2.91) followed by "Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring my behavior" (2.72).

Table 2.0
Ratings of Individual Survey Items
(SD = Strongly Disagree; D = Disagree; U = Unsure; A = Agree; SA = Strongly Agree)
ITEM N SD
N(%)
D
N(%)
U
N(%)
A
N(%)
SA
N(%)
Mean Stand. Dev.
I receive high levels of love and support from family members. 136 1(0.7) 1(0.7) 3(2.2) 36(26.3) 95(69.3) 4.64 .640
I can go to my parent(s) or guardian(s) for advice and support. 135 3(2.2) 4(2.9) 5(3.6) 36(26.3) 88 (63.5) 4.48 .880
I can go to my parent(s) or guardian(s) and have frequent, in-depth conversations with them. 135 4(2.9) 3(2.2) 17(12.4) 54(39.4) 57(41.6) 4.16 .940
I know some nonparent adults I can go to for advice and support. 136 6(4.4) 2(1.5) 15(10.9) 56(40.9) 57(41.6) 4.15 .985
My neighbors encourage and support me. 134 19(13.9) 15(10.9) 43(31.4) 34(24.8) 23(16.8) 3.20 1.261
My school provides a caring, encouraging environment. 134 11(8.0) 6(4.4) 30(21.9) 57(41.6) 30(21.9) 3.66 1.124
My parent(s) or guardians help me succeed in school. 135 1(0.7) 1(0.7) 8(5.8) 49(35.8) 76(55.5) 4.47 .710
I feel valued by adults in my community. 135 3(2.2) 9(6.6) 25(18.2) 65(47.4) 33(24.1) 3.86 .940
I am given useful roles in my community. 136 2(1.5) 8(5.8) 41(29.9) 56(40.9) 29(21.2) 3.75 .909
I serve in the community one hour or more each week. 135 20(14.6) 28(20.4) 43(31.4) 33(24.1) 11 (8.0) 2.90 1.171
I feel safe at home. 136 4(2.9) 1(0.7) 3(2.2) 38(27.7) 90(65.7) 4.54 .834
I feel safe at school. 134 13(9.5) 3(2.2) 15(10.9) 51(37.2) 52(38.0) 3.94 1.212
I feel safe in my neighborhood. 136 3(2.2) 5(3.6) 20(14.6) 49(35.8) 59(43.1) 4.15 .955
My family sets standards for appropriate conduct. 136 3(2.2) 1(0.7) 13(9.5) 41(29.9) 78(56.9) 4.40 .863
My family monitors my whereabouts. 135 0(0.0) 3(2.2) 14(10.2) 51(37.2) 67(48.9) 4.35 .756
My school has clear rules and consequences for behavior. 136 2(1.5) 1(0.7) 11(8.0) 51(37.2) 71(51.8) 4.38 .789
ITEM N SD
N(%)
D
N(%)
U
N(%)
A
N(%)
SA
N(%)
   
Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring my behavior. 132 30(21.9) 25(18.2) 40(29.2) 27(19.7) 10(7.3) 2.71 1.239
parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior. 135 2(1.5) 5(3.6) 13(9.5) 62(45.3) 53(38.7) 4.18 .863
My best friends model responsible behavior. 135 5 (3.6) 2 (1.5) 24(17.5) 64(46.7) 40(29.3) 3.98 .934
My parent(s)/guardian(s) encourage me to do well. 135 1(0.7) 0(0.0) 4(2.9) 33(23.4) 98(71.5) 4.67 .609
My teachers encourage me to do well. 136 4(2.9) 0(0.0) 15(10.9) 49(35.8) 68(49.6) 4.30 .889
I spend three hours or more each week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts. 136 18(13.1) 19(13.9) 22(16.1) 27(19.7) 50(36.5) 3.53 1.440
I spend three hours or more each week in school, or community sports, clubs, or organizations. 134 5(3.6) 7(5.1) 12(8.8) 36(26.3) 74(54.0) 4.25 1.065
I spend one hour or more each week in religious services or participating in spiritual activities. 133 14(10.2) 13(9.5) 20(14.6) 35(25.5) 51(37.2) 3.72 1.345
I go out with friends with nothing special to do two or fewer nights each week. 134 14(10.2) 22(16.1) 30(21.9) 35(25.5) 33(24.1) 3.38 1.302
I want to do well in school. 135 3(2.2) 1(0.7) 5(3.6) 26(19.0) 100(73.0) 4.62 .790
I am actively engaged in learning. 133 2(1.5) 4(2.9) 18(13.1) 60(43.8) 49(35.8) 4.13 .865
I do an hour or more of homework each school day. 135 5(3.6) 13(9.5) 31(22.6) 40(29.2) 46(33.6) 3.81 1.123
I care about my school. 136 10(7.3) 11(8.0) 23(16.8) 53(38.7) 39(28.5) 3.74 1.175
I read for pleasure three or more hours each week. 135 21(15.3) 26(19.0) 18(13.1) 27(19.7) 43(31.4) 3.33 1.481
I believe it is really important to help other people. 135 2(1.5) 1(0.7) 7(5.1) 63(46.) 62(45.3) 4.35 .746
I want to help promote equality. 131 1(0.7) 1(0.7) 22(16.1) 48(35.0) 59(43.1) 4.24 .814
I want to help reduce world poverty and hunger. 132 2(1.5) 0(0.0) 17(12.4) 46(33.6) 67(48.9) 4.33 .816
ITEM N SD
N(%)
D
N(%)
U
N(%)
A
N(%)
SA
N(%)
   
I can stand up for what I believe. 134 1(0.7) 1(0.7) 9(6.6) 44(32.1) 79(57.7) 4.49 .723
I tell the truth even when it's not easy. 134 5 (3.6) 4(2.9) 31(22.6) 57(41.6) 37(27.0) 3.87 .977
I can accept and take personal responsibility. 134 0(0.0) 0(0.0) 10(7.3) 62(45.3) 61(44.5) 4.78 4.673
I believe it is important not to be sexually active. 133 10(7.3) 8(5.8) 18(13.1) 30(21.9) 67(48.9) 4.02 1.252
I believe it is important to not use alcohol. 135 4(2.9) 1(0.7) 5(3.6) 29(21.2) 96(70.1) 4.57 .851
I believe it is important not to use drugs. 135 5(3.6) 0(0.0) 1(0.7) 21(15.3) 108(78.8) 4.68 .825
I am good at planning ahead and making decisions. 135 2(1.5) 8(5.8) 27(19.7) 66(48.2) 32(23.4) 3.87 .893
I am good at making and keeping friends. 134 1(0.7) 3(2.2) 8(5.8) 55(40.1) 67(48.9) 4.37 .763
I know people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds. 134 3(2.2) 2(1.5) 11(8.0) 47(34.3) 71(51.8) 4.35 .869
I am comfortable with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds. 133 2(1.5) 3(2.2) 12(8.8) 39(28.5) 77(56.2) 4.40 .861
I can resist negative peer pressure. 135 2(1.5) 3(2.2) 14(10.2) 59(43.1) 57(41.6) 4.23 .837
I can resist dangerous situations. 134 5(3.6) 5(3.6) 12(8.8) 44(32.1) 68(49.6) 4.23 1.018
I try to resolve conflict nonviolently. 135 8(5.8) 7(5.1) 23(16.8) 46(33.6) 51(37.2) 3.93 1.137
I believe I have control over many things that happen to me. 136 3(2.2) 7(5.1) 19(13.9) 58(42.3) 49(99.3) 4.05 .953
I feel good about myself. 134 3(2.2) 4(29) 12(8.8) 62(45.3) 53(38.7) 4.18 .883
I believe my life has a purpose. 136 3(2.2) 2(1.5) 12(8.8) 38(27.7) 81(59.1) 4.41 .882
I am optimistic about my future. 135 4(2.9) 1(0.7) 14(10.2) 49(35.8) 66(48.2) 4.30 .933

Discussion

Because level of assets possessed is a good predictor of the likelihood youth will engage in risky health behaviors (the more assets possessed, the less likely youth will be involved in high-risk behaviors), incorporating the developmental asset framework into a needs assessment can help pinpoint areas for substance abuse prevention initiatives (Search Institute, 2013).  Youth from an area of a state with some of the highest proportions of substance abuse and violence were surveyed on their attitudes toward these positive developmental assets. Although substance abuse and violence is increasing as these respondents matriculate through their school (Adair County Drug Coalition, 2010), their highest-scoring assets of positive values, positive identity, and social competencies may act as protective factors or buffers against their participation in these risky behaviors.

Respondents strongly disagreed that neighbors monitor youth behavior, they read for pleasure, and they serve in the community. In addition, respondents identified lack of constructive use of time, lack of empowerment, and lack of commitment to learning as their lowest asset categories. These results seem to mirror national trends as lack of participation in creative activities (like reading and community service projects) and poor decision-making (possibly due to lack of empowerment) are assets also lacking in many youth (Search Institute, 2014).  On the positive side, valuing responsibility, understanding that it is important not to use drugs, and to do well in school, as well as having parental encouragement to do well also mirror national trends of family support and a positive view of the future (Search Institute, 2014).  If respondents are encouraged to do well by their parents, especially in school, they will probably stay free of substance abuse and have a good chance at a bright future.

Using this asset framework, implications for community substance abuse prevention coalitions are numerous. Although respondents generally possessed positive attitudes toward the assets, prevention initiatives should still attempt to conduct some activities or programs that focus on personal responsibility, sense of purpose, and resistance skills to maintain the highest-scoring assets of positive values, positive identity, and social competencies. In this specific high-risk, rural area, it is imperative to conduct interventions to address topics in the lowest scoring asset categories. Prevention activities for constructive use of time can focus on creative activities that families can do together as it seems parents tend to encourage respondents to do well. Prevention activities for empowerment can focus on working with the community to value youth through businesses, agencies, and religious organizations offering more volunteer opportunities for youth to empower them to serve others. Prevention activities for commitment to learning could focus on rewarding reading for pleasure through summer teen book clubs and awarding middle school academic achievement as respondents report that they want to do well in school and are encouraged to do well in school by their parents.

Overall, respondents in this study possess positive attitudes toward achievement of developmental assets that can protect them against the increasing amount of substance abuse and violence they will face as they matriculate through a high-risk school district. Although the generalizability of this study is limited to middle school students from a rural area of a state with high drug and violence problems, results of this study using the developmental assets framework may help focus prevention interventions on priority asset categories.

References

Adair County Drug Coalition. ACDC Report (2010).  Kirksville, MO: Author.

Behavioral Health Epidemiology Workgroup. Behavioral Health Profile Adair County. (2013). Retrieved from: http://dmh.mo.gov/docs/ada/Progs/MOBHEW/profiles/29001_adair_profile.pdf

Hawkins, D., Catalano F., Miller J. (July 1992). Risk and protective factors for alcohol and other drug problems in adolescence and early adulthood: implications for substance abuse prevention. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1529040

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (n.d.). Comprehensive Data System. Retrieved from: http://mcds.dese.mo.gov/quickfacts/SitePages/DistrictInfo.aspx?ID=__bk8100030003001300030093001300

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Status Report. Adair County.  (2012). Retrieved from: http://dmh.mo.gov/docs/ada/countylinks/Indicators2010/e005.pdf

MO Department of Mental Health. (2010). MO Student Survey. Retrieved from: http://dmh.mo.gov/docs/ada/rpts/MissouriStudentSurvey/MSS2010FinalReport.pdf

Office of Social and Economic Analysis. (2012). Adair County Fact Sheets. Retrieved from: http://www.oseda.missouri.edu/cgi-bin/countypage?29001

Search Institute. (April, 2014) Developmental Assets. Retrieved from:  https://www.wvdhhr.org/ahi/assets.pdf    

Search Institute. (2013). Developmental Assets Research. Retrieved from:http://www.search-institute.org/research/developmental-assets


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