Positive youth development

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Positive Youth Development, or PYD is a strengths based view of adolescence that finds its origins in ecological systems theory.[1] It likewise shares some conceptual space with the relatively recent advent of positive psychology principles. Central to its philosophy, the theory of PYD suggests that “if young people have mutually beneficial relations with the people and institutions of their social world, they will be on the way to a hopeful future marked by positive contributions to self, family, community, and civil society”.[1] To that end, PYD refers to intentional efforts of other youth, adults, communities, government agencies, and schools to provide opportunities for youth to enhance their interests, skills, and abilities. “The positive youth development approach aims at understanding, educating and engaging children in productive activities rather than at correcting, curing or treating them for maladaptive tendencies or so-called disabilities”.[2] In addition, PYD is usually used in scientific literature and by practitioners who work with youth to refer to programs designed to optimize developmental progress. It is distinguished from 'child development' or 'adolescent development' in its focus on the active promotion of optimal human development, rather than on the scientific study of age related change[3] or as solely a means of avoiding risky behaviors. Rather than grounding its developmental approach in the presence of adversity, risk or challenge, a PYD approach considers the potential and capacity of each individual young person. A hallmark of these programs is that they are based on the concept that children and adolescents have strengths and abilities unique to their developmental stage and that they are not merely 'inadequate' or 'undeveloped' adults. Lerner and colleagues write: "The goal of the positive youth development perspective is to promote positive outcomes. This idea is in contrast to a perspective that focuses on punishment and the idea that adolescents are broken".[4]

PYD is both a vision, an ideology and a new vocabulary for engaging with youth development.[1] Its tenets can be organized into the 5 C’s which are:

  • competence
  • confidence
  • connection
  • character
  • caring

When these 5 C’s are present, the 6th C of “contribution” is realized.[5]


Many models of youth development among child care professionals, educators and pediatricians have a tendency to spotlight negative issues that can arise during adolescence; “learning disabilities, affective disorders, antisocial conduct, low motivation and academic achievement, drinking, drug use, or smoking, psychosocial crisis triggered by maturational episodes like puberty and risks of neglect, abuse and economic deprivation”.[2] These models are considered "traditional youth development" models. During adolescence, young people experience profound physical changes, rapid growth and development, and sexual maturation, in addition to psychological and social changes. The field of youth development promotes the concept that the weight and combination of these changes often lead to issues with personal identity, sense of self, and emotional independence. In an attempt to cope with the complex changes and challenges of development, adolescents may engage in behaviors considered to be experimental and risky.[6] Due to the changes during these years, several important public health and social problems either begin or peak during these years including homicide, suicide, substance use and abuse, sexually transmitted infections, and teen and unplanned pregnancies.[7] Many professionals and mass media portray adolescents as inevitable problems that just need to be “straightened out” before they can do too much harm.[2] Specific evidence of this “problem-centered” model can be found all over professional fields that work with young people.[2] Much of this perspective stems from the work of child psychoanalyst Fritz Redl, and others like him.[2] Many connections can also be made to the current US criminal justice model that favors punishment as opposed to prevention. The popularity and recent prevalence of syndromes such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can be attributed professionals in education and pediatric medicine, who have pumped resources into these labels that “remediate the incapacities of young people”.[2] Child Psychologists have increased their focus on self-esteem deficits, early childhood trauma and destructive patterns among young people.[2]


Positive Youth Development was created as a response to the negative and punitive approaches of the then current "traditional youth development" approaches. Addressing the positive development of young people can decrease these problems by facilitating their adoption of healthy behaviors and helping to ensure a healthy transition into adulthood.[8] The concept and practice of Positive Youth Development “grew from the dissatisfaction with a predominant view that underestimated the true capacities of young people by focusing on their deficits rather than their development potential”.[2] Positive Youth Development proponents often contend that problem free youths are not necessarily fully prepared.[9]

Practical applications[edit]

Positive youth development programs typically recognize contextual variability in youths' experience and in what is considered 'healthy' or 'optimal' development for youth in different settings or cultures.[10] This cultural sensitivity reflects the influence of Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems theory. The influence of ecological systems theory is also seen on the emphasis many youth development programs place on the interrelationship of different social contexts through which the development person moves (e.g. family, peers, school, work, and leisure). The University of Minnesota's Keys to Quality Youth Development summarizes eight key elements of programs that successfully promote youth development. Such programs are physically and emotionally safe, give youth a sense of belonging and ownership and foster their self-worth, allow them to discover their 'self' (identity, interests, strengths), foster high quality and supportive relations with peers and adults, help youth recognize conflicting values and develop their own, foster the development of new skills, have fun, and have hope for the future. In addition, programs that employ PYD principles generally have one or more of the following features:[3]

  • promote bonding
  • foster resilience
  • promote social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and moral competence
  • foster self-determination
  • foster spirituality
  • foster self-efficacy
  • foster clear and positive identity
  • foster belief in the future
  • provide recognition for positive behavior and opportunities for prosocial involvement
  • foster prosocial norms

Examples of Organizations Using Positive Youth Development Principles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Lerner, R.M.; Almerigi, J.B.; Theokas, C.; Lerner, J.V. (2005). "Positive Youth Development". Journal of Early Adolescence 25 (1): 10–16. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Damon, William (January 2004). "What Is Positive Youth Development?". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591: 13–24. 
  3. ^ a b "Positive Youth Development in the U.S.: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs". Retrieved April 9, 2014. 
  4. ^ Lerner, Richard M.; Jacqueline V. Lerner; Erin Phelps; and Colleagues (2012). "Waves of the Future: The first eight years of the 4-H study of positive youth development". 
  5. ^ McKay, Cassandra; Margaret Sanders; Stephanie Wroblewski (2011-09-15). "Positive Youth Development and School Capacity Building". SSW Journal 36 (1): 16–25. 
  6. ^ Breinbauer, C; Maddaleno, M. (2005). Youth Choices and Change, Washington, DC, PAHO. 
  7. ^ "Healthy People 2020 - Improving the Health of Americans". Retrieved April 9, 2014. 
  8. ^ McNeely, MA, DrPH, Clea; Jayne Blanchard (2009). "The Teen Years Explained: A Guide to Healthy Adolescent Development". Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Adolescent Health. 
  9. ^ Pittman KJ. Promoting Youth Development: Strengthening the Role of Youth-Serving and Community Organizations. Report Prepared for The U.S. Department of Agriculture Extension Services. Washington, DC: Center for Youth De- velopment and Policy Research, 1991.
  10. ^ "Positive Youth Development in the U.S.: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs: Chapter 1". Retrieved April 9, 2014. 

External links[edit]