Portage County kids rate community strengths

By Deanna Hohler Bottar Record-Courier staff write Published:

At a town meeting Thursday at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown, the results revealed that the students who participated in the survey have about one less "asset" than children surveyed in other communities across the country.

The children who took part in the survey, which was facilitated by the Family and Children First Council of Portage County through a grant, were asked to evaluate how well their communities provide a list of 40 such assets.

The assets address issues like family support, how much the community values youth, family boundaries, involvement in and availability of creative activities, achievement motivation and interpersonal competence.

"The issue is not how you do relative to other communities," explained Dale Blyth, of the Minneapolis-based Search Institute, who presented the survey results to about 60 educators, pastors, law enforcement officers and county officials.

"The issue is how you do relative to your own vision for the community. The task in asset building is not to get every kid to have 40 assets either," Blyth said. "It's about the accumulation of assets in a variety of different ways."

Building assets in children is everyone's job _ from teachers and counselors to youth leaders, mentors and neighbors. It takes a community to raise a child, he said.

"This is not radical," he added.

Studies have revealed that children endowed with a greater number of assets tend to have lower involvement in tobacco, drug and alcohol use, are less apt to violent behavior, have better social skills, delay engaging in sexual activities until they are older and are at lower risk for depression and suicide.

A total of 1,435 students _ 730 girls and 694 boys _ from Kent, Ravenna, Field and Streetsboro schools participated in the survey. Of those, 635 were in the seventh grade, 487 were in the 10th grade and 307 were seniors.

Across the board, the Portage County results were on par with results from about 99,000 other students who have been surveyed across the country.

Portage children ranked the following assets at levels lower than children surveyed elsewhere: safety, school boundaries, achievement motivation, school engagement, homework and bonding to school.

They also rated several assets higher than the other students did. Those areas included youth programming and values like integrity, honesty and responsibility.

The seventh-graders surveyed showed they were more highly involved in nine of 10 risky behaviors, including tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual activity, violence and depression, when compared to children previously surveyed.

The 12th-graders surveyed showed they were more highly involved in five of 10 risky behaviors but lower than the average on mixing driving and alcohol use.

Blyth said the key to using the results is to create an awareness campaign, getting people talking about how the community can work together to meet children's needs and celebrate what's good about today's youth.

"We have far too much divorced the issue of community health with the

issue of the individual's health," he said. "We want parents and

citizens to be motivated to help with today's youth."

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