Music Education Counteracts Negative Influences for Youth

Jean D. Lachowicz

It’s called resiliency. It’s called a spark. It’s called a miracle. It’s called a fluke.

There is no easy way to explain the reason why some kids manage to grow up in extremely difficult situations and conquer their challenges against all odds, confound the naysayers, and attain unimaginable success in personal, professional, and academic achievements.

What golden cord becomes a lifeline for children to rise up and reach lofty heights when they are stuck in overcrowded and underfunded schools, poverty, fear, despair, and disadvantage that seems to envelop all aspects of their experience? Conversely, why do some kids seem to have everything they could possibly need and still come up lacking in the ability to grow successfully?

Kids with that cold hard “street face” always break my heart, but any time I walk into a classroom or event, there always seems to be at least a few children with a softness and brightness that makes them stand out and makes me want to hug them!

After years of inquiring, I learned about the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets ( and this riddle finally started to make some sense. In a nutshell, the 40 Developmental Assets are internal and external conditions that literally counteract negatives in a kid’s life, level the playing field, and give children the social sustenance they need to thrive.

The Developmental Assets build on young people’s strengths rather than emphasizing their problems or deficiencies. The philosophic shift is extremely powerful and radical. Whether the big issue is homelessness, poverty, hopelessness, addiction, apathy, violence, fear, anger, illness, injustice, or any other social problem, bolstering the positive is a potent way to counteract the negative aspects of anyone’s life.

The Search Institute has put together lists of Assets to consider, such things as: does the child have a school that provides clear rules and consequences, does the child place high value on helping other people, does the child seek to resolve conflict nonviolently?

The lists touch upon all aspects of human experience, including home life, school, extracurricular activities, and community safety. Many thousands of children have been tested with these lists and the Search Institute discovered that a child needs 31 out of 40 Assets in order to “thrive.” It’s something only 11% of the tested students have (not only poverty-level children, but ALL children). In other words, a kid can have an incomprehensibly difficult situation, but if there are enough positive aspects (31 out of 40), that child will be fine, despite all the problems! Similarly, a kid can have an apparently comfortable life, but unless 31 out of 40 Assets can be checked off, that child is in a high-risk situation.

Music and music education programs are connected with significant Developmental Assets. When those Assets can be checked off the list in assessing a child’s life situation, that child’s personal possibilities are dramatically enhanced. Three or four positive Assets might be just enough to counteract some very serious problems.

Here are three examples (and there are many more) of how a music education program can specifically add Assets to childrens’ lives and bring them up to a higher level of “thriving”:

  • Asset #3 – Other adult relationships—young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults. (Music teachers tend to develop strong bonds with students.)
  • Asset #17 – Creative activities—young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts. (Clearly, there are numerous benefits to a child who is studying and practicing music.)
  • Asset #20 – Time at home—young person is out with friends “with nothing special to do” no more than two nights per week. (Making music is a far better pastime than many other popular activities.)

No matter how compromised and difficult children’s’ situation may be, adding music gives them a statistical edge and helps raise their level of success.

For example, let’s consider children who are burdened by the myriad physical, social, and logistic problems of homelessness. Do we as a society want to make sure every child has a roof over his/her head? You bet. Is that something actually within the control of most of us? Sadly, no.

As much as I would love to have a magic wand to make sure every precious child has a happy home, a nutritious meal, a modern classroom, a safe environment, and a positive family situation, my good intentions and heartfelt wishes are mitigated by reality. However, it is well within my power to dedicate my efforts to making sure every child has opportunities for music and music education.

This is something each and every one of us can do. We can all make an impact on increasing children’s access to music and music education opportunities by supporting the Spirit of Harmony Foundation.

Adding a positive element to the lives of children just might bump a whole lot of them right up into the “thriving” category, and that would have a massive impact on their lives and on our world.

Payton2014Jean D. Lachowicz is Executive Director of the Spirit of Harmony Foundation. For the past 30 years, she headed nonprofits specializing in youth development, social justice, and human services. She lives in Chicago, IL.



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