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Teen survey targets at-risk behaviors

 

March 26, 2002



Questions about positive family communication, conflict resolution and self-esteem are just three of the 40 topics addressed in a nationwide survey conducted by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute.

Since 1996, more than 1.5 million teenagers have taken the survey, which seeks to identify "internal and external developmental assets," those factors that have a positive impact on a kid's life. The survey is conducted with the help of Lutheran Brotherhood, the nonprofit Search Institute's corporate sponsor.

Dick Timm, agency resource manager with the Lutheran Brotherhood's Billings office, is working with Havre's Mental Health Awareness Council to bring the survey to Havre.

"I've worked with a lot of communities all over Montana and Wyoming. In my travels, I've come across a lot of situations, things that work and things that don't work," Timm said. "One of the things that's really important to this is broad-based community support."

In order to conduct the 50-minute survey, Timm said, they must first have the permission of Havre Public Schools. The questionnaires would be distributed in May to kids in seventh through 11th grades.

Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller said he supports the survey, provided the community is behind it as well. Miller attended a meeting hosted by Timm and Brad Ulgenes, pastor at First Lutheran Church in Havre, on Monday.

"The one thing that came to the forefront is getting community support on all avenues," Miller said. "Our position is that the school district is willing to do anything that will help the youth of our community."

Ulgenes agreed.

"I think the schools are doing all they can. We need to broaden their support," he said. "This is all about adults building positive relationships with youth in simple ways."

Another meeting to discuss the survey is set for April 17. A time and place has yet to be determined. Regardless, Ulgenes said, everyone, including the kids, is welcome to attend.

"We'd like the entire community to come to this meeting, to invest 1 hours of their time to build healthy youth," he said.

The idea is to increase a teen's number of assets, while reducing the chance he/she will be at-risk, Timm said. High-risk behaviors, according to the Search Institute, include alcohol abuse, drug use, sexual activity and violence.

HELP, a Havre organization that encourages prevention of drug and alcohol abuse, supports the survey.

"Most of our programs are modeled around the developmental asset model. The more assets kids have, the more likely they are not to get involved in risky behavior," said Krista Solomon, HELP's program director. "The more tools we can have to guide in our programming for youth, the better."

The survey, Timm said, includes other questions about a teen's integrity, honesty, responsibility, and sense of purpose in life. The average teen, according to survey results, has 18 assets. The goal is for kids to identify those assets they'd like to fulfill and to go after them.

The teens get their own survey results so they can work on building their assets.

"Some assets may be less important to some people, but they're all of equal value," Timm said. "The more assets they have, the less at risk they are."

Timm and Ulgenes are confident that the community will support the survey, which Ulgenes said will cost $3,000 to conduct. Half of the money has been donated by the Lutheran Brotherhood; the other half will be raised by the church.

"We want the kids to be involved. They need to see that this isn't just some other test that goes in a file," Ulgenes said. "This is for their lives."

 

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