Planting the Seeds

Since 1990, Search Institute has been conducting research to better understand what kids need to be successful and contributing adult members of society. They have identified 40 developmental assets that are based on skills, experiences, relationships, and behaviors. The research indicates that the more developmental assets children and youth have, the more likely they are to succeed in life.

The developmental assets data is based on more than 5 million children and youth across the United States. The power of these assets is evident across all cultural and socioeconomic groups. Research suggests that developmental assets protect young people from many different problems, such as alcohol use, illicit drug use, sexual activity, and violence. In addition, the assets promote positive attitudes and behaviors, such as succeeding in school, maintaining good health, and valuing diversity.

Cultural competence is one of the 40 developmental assets identified by Search Institute. Their definition of cultural competence is “having knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.” I believe this definition can also be used to describe someone who is culturally proficient and you may notice that I use both phrases interchangeably.

Based on the most recent survey results, only 43% of young people (ages 11-18) in the U.S. possess the cultural competence asset. What about the other 57% of young people? Louise Derman-Sparks, a noted pioneer and leader in the area of early childhood education, stated:

“Children in the 21st century will not be able to function if they are psychologically bound by outdated and narrow assumptions about their neighbors. To thrive, even to survive, in this complicated world, we need to learn how to function in many different cultural contexts, to recognize and respect different histories and perspectives, and to know how to work together to create a more just world that can take care of all its people, its living creatures, and its land.”

If you think it’s important to pass developmental assets on to your children and you want your children to thrive in our culturally diverse world, then you must make a commitment to raising culturally competent children. Being culturally aware isn’t just a nice personality trait, it is actually an important life skill.

Although my goal is to help children become more culturally competent, I realize in order to do this, I need to first help parents become more culturally proficient. This means parents need to spend time reflecting on what culture means, learning about different dimensions of culture, and understanding the importance of windows and mirrors. So while the focus is on planting the seeds of cultural competence with our children, the truth is that we will also be planting seeds of our own.

In the end, I hope to help children, parents, and families embrace cultural competence. I hope you agree that it is a necessary life skill for all children. Are you committed to planting the seeds of cultural competence and doing what is necessary to help the seeds grow, take root, and flourish in your family?