The “relationship gap”. That phrase likely doesn’t mean much to you.

But in our research, where we seek to determine what’s inside the “black box” of relationships, the relationship gap is something that’s important to acknowledge because it gets in the way of many youth becoming thriving adults.

black box of relationships

Because relationships are so important in young people’s lives, Search Institute has dedicated its work to figuring out what exactly happens in that “black box” of relationships that helps the young people develop in a positive direction.

In the five key elements that Search Institute has identified as vital in a developmental relationship–expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power and expanding possibilities–it is often the adult who takes the lead in these actions and expresses them most strongly, intentionally, and consistently. 

developmental relationships

We have found when those five elements are in place in a young person’s life, they experience better outcomes in academic motivation, social and emotional skills and personal responsibility. And high-risk behaviors decrease.

The problem comes when kids do not experience those elements of relationships as they should. In these cases, the outcomes reflect the lack of the quality or quantity of those transformative relationships.

relationship gap outcomes

As you can see from the chart below, which reflects the outcome of a study of 25,000 kids from a large county in the western United States, 22% said they didn’t experience any of the five aspects of a developmental relationship, and 18% said they only experienced one.

relationship gap study

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