The Developmental Relationships Framework

Search Institute has identified five elements—expressed in 20 specific actions—that make relationships powerful in young people’s lives. We refer to this as the developmental relationships framework.


Download a Ready-to-Print Developmental Relationships Framework (PDF)

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Express Care

Show me that I matter to you.

  • Be dependable—Be someone I can trust.
  • Listen—Really pay attention when we are together.
  • Believe in me—Make me feel known and valued.
  • Be warm—Show me you enjoy being with me.
  • Encourage—Praise me for my efforts and achievements.

Challenge Growth

Push me to keep getting better.

  • Expect my best—Expect me to live up to my potential.
  • Stretch—Push me to go further.
  • Hold me accountable—Insist I take responsibility for my actions.
  • Reflect on failures—Help me learn from mistakes and setbacks.

Provide Support

Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.

  • Navigate—Guide me through hard situations and systems.
  • Empower—Build my confidence to take charge of my life.
  • Advocate—Stand up for me when I need it.
  • Set boundaries—Put in place limits that keep me on track.

Share Power

Treat me with respect and give me a say.

  • Respect me—Take me seriously and treat me fairly.
  • Include me—Involve me in decisions that affect me.
  • Collaborate—Work with me to solve problems and reach goals.
  • Let me lead—Create opportunities for me to take action and lead.

Expand Possibilities

Connect me with people and places that broaden my world.

  • Inspire—Inspire me to see possibilities for my future.
  • Broaden horizons—Expose me to new ideas, experiences, and places.
  • Connect—Introduce me to people who can help me grow.

Reproducing the Developmental Relationships Frameworks

No written permission is required by Search Institute to copy the Developmental Relationships Framework for educational, noncommercial uses, provided that the list is unchanged and includes this copyright notice:

Copyright © 2016 by Search Institute®, 3001 Broadway Street NE, Suite 310, Minneapolis MN 55413; 800-888-7828; Used with permission.

For other uses, see the permissions page.

5 Things to Know about Developmental Relationships

The summary of the elements and actions in the Developmental Relationships Framework skims the surface of how relationships work in young people’s lives. Keep these ideas in mind as you begin to internalize the framework:

1. Relationships are two-way experiences and commitments.

Because each person contributes to and receives from relationships, these actions can be both experienced and initiated by each person. (For the purpose of clarity, the framework is expressed from the perspective of a young person.)
Of course, the two-way relationship is not always balanced or equal. Adults have particular responsibilities for cultivating relationships with young people. At the same time, it is powerful for young people to recognize that they have opportunities and responsibilities for developing strong relationships with trustworthy peers and adults.

2. Each element and action may be expressed and experienced in different ways.

The framework seeks to articulate broad areas of relationships and relational practices that may be expressed in many different ways based on individual, community, cultural, and other differences. For example, we know that one might “express care” or “share power” differently in relationships with young people, depending on the culture, type of relationship (e.g., parent vs. friend vs. teacher), age and personality of the young person, community context and circumstances, and many other factors.

The framework gives a starting point for exploring how we might be more intentional in reflecting on and strengthening relationships without assuming that all relationships can or should be the same.

3. Relationships are not all that matters.

We believe that relationships are vital resources in young people’s development. But we know they are part of a larger system or ecology of development. At a minimum, we can think of the relationships in young people’s lives as part of a three-part “system” for development (diagram), knowing that real life is more complex. Each system includes both strengths and challenges.

In a system, each part influences the other. So, for example, strong relationships and building individual self-management skills can help to mitigate (not eliminate) the challenge of bias or discrimination a young person may experience. On the other hand, reducing institutional racism, bias, or toxic stress in a community, school, or other setting can make it easier to form strong relationships and for young people to focus on developing the skills, attitudes, and other strengths they need to thrive.

4. The Developmental Relationships Framework builds on Search Institute’s work on Developmental Assets.

Search Institute’s signature framework of Developmental Assets—along with a plethora of other research in the field—is a key building block for Search Institute’s newer work on developmental relationships. In addition, the developmental relationships offer a concrete, focused tool for putting into practice a core asset-building message: Assets are built primarily through relationships.

Learn more about the bridges between Developmental Assets and developmental relationships.

5. The framework will continue to improve.

The five elements and 20 actions we have identified in the Developmental Relationships Framework do not capture everything that’s important in relationships. Nor do they fully reflect the rich diversity of practical wisdom and scientific findings available regarding relationships in young people’s lives. We welcome feedback on where we have missed the mark as well as opportunities to learn with others about how the framework might be aligned or misaligned in different cultures, contexts, or types of relationships.

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