Families with high levels of wealth are not necessarily superior at raising resilient kids, a motivational speaker warned Palo Alto parents and teachers Wednesday (Oct. 19).
Washington-based Clay Roberts, an expert on the "Developmental Assets" -- a youth-wellness framework adopted by Palo Alto following a string of teen suicides here from 2009 to early 2011 -- spent a day talking with community leaders, teachers and students.
"Don't confuse economic assets with developmental assets, especially in this community," Roberts said to a gathering of 100 community leaders at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Wednesday morning.
"Don't assume that because families have some wealth they have high levels of assets, and don't assume that kids who come from families struggling economically have low levels of assets."
Research suggests that strengths-based models, such as the Developmental Assets, are more effective at changing youth behavior than "deficit models," Roberts said.
"Instead of looking at troubled kids and asking what went wrong, you need to look at kids who are doing well and ask what went right," he said.
A developmental assets survey of Palo Alto students last October measured each child's level of assets, defined as "values, relationships and experiences that youth need to thrive."
It indicated many kids here don't feel valued by adults in their lives -- and the older they are, the less valued they feel.
Results showed that elementary children have more positive attitudes than older students, and that kids feel less supported and less hopeful as they move into their teen years.
Nearly half of Palo Alto's high school students were measured as "vulnerable and at risk," according to the survey, while only one in 10 were categorized as "thriving."
Roberts, who has worked with more than 100 communities across the country that have adopted the Developmental Assets, said it's up to every adult to be an "asset-builder" by making a point of knowing the names and interests of kids in their neighborhood and engaging them in conversations.
Kids respond when an adult makes them feel trusted and believed in, he said.
"People who do this well reach out to kids using basic, positive social interaction," Roberts said.
"People will say, 'They can talk to me any time, I'm really approachable, my door is always open,' but kids don't have the social skills to do that."
Roberts passed out a wall chart titled "150 Ways to Show Kids You Care," listing suggestions such as: Notice them, smile a lot, acknowledge them, learn their names, seek them out, remember their birthdays, ask them about themselves, look into their eyes when you talk to them, listen to them and be nice.
Roberts' talk to parents Wednesday night was cablecast live on Comcast Channel 28, and will be rebroadcast through the Midpeninsula Community Media Center.
His visit to Palo Alto was sponsored by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the Palo Alto Unified School District and Project Safety Net, a multi-agency coalition that was organized in response to the suicides.