Q&A: Bringing Family Strengths to the Forefront

Photograph of a multigenerational family.

An average family in the United States is about half as strong as it has the potential to be. That’s the conclusion of a new study of family assets, or strengths, conducted by the nonprofit research and education group The Search Institute.

The organization’s researchers talked to one 10- to 15-year-old and one parenting adult in more than 1,500 families. The goal was to quantify how families are doing in five areas:  nurturing relationships, establishing routines, maintaining expectations, adapting to challenges and connecting to community.

Principal investigator Amy Syvertsen and her team found that some families have a lot of strengths, some families have few strengths, and most families fall somewhere in the middle, with an average score of 47 out of a possible 100.

Education and socioeconomic level don’t seem to affect the makeup of family strengths, but a family's assets are reduced if basic needs, like housing or food, aren't met. The number of assets a family has matters because teens and parents from families with higher scores had better health, felt more satisfied with their lives and families, and contributed more frequently to their communities.

We spoke with Syvertsen about the Family Assets Study and how families and youth workers can use the findings.

NCFY: What was the most interest finding from the study?

Syvertsen: Finding age differences—that the assets go down [at age 10] and then there’s an uptick at age 13. It gives hope to families and speaks to the fact that families are renegotiating a lot when the kids are 13.

NCFY: Do you think any of the assets are more important than others?

Syvertsen: We’re in the middle of doing those kinds of analyses right now—which assets matter for which kind of outcomes. We know that the more assets you have the better outcomes you and your family tend to show. But when it comes to programming we have to focus it in and find out what matters for which outcome. So stay tuned!

NCFY: What are the most important takeaways for parents and for youth workers or educators?

Syvertsen: So much of the research on families is skewed toward the negative. We wanted to know how we could bring the strengths we know are there to the forefront, and then also how we could work with educators to be intentional about helping in family development.

If the study was given to a parent, I’d want them to see that relationships matter, that connecting to the community is where we see the lowest scores, and that matters. For youth workers or educators, assuming they’re working directly with young people, I’d want them to see the importance of intentionally committing to the fact that young people matter and that young people contribute to their families. That’s key.

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