Positive Youth Development Model

Teenage boy concentrating on homework

Positive Youth Development (PYD) is an approach to working with young people that shifts our focus from a problem and deficit perspective to one that acknowledges and builds upon the strengths and positive characteristics of youth (Commission on Positive Youth Development, 2005; Hamilton & Hamilton, 2004). PYD has its roots in developmental psychology, developmental epidemiology, and prevention science and is supported by a broad range of programs and agencies including the Federal Family and Youth Services Bureau, the Administration for Children and Families, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the 4H program.

The goal of PYD is to build the competence, confidence, character, caring, and connections that will support a young person’s transition into a healthy, happy, responsible, and productive adulthood. Once an adolescent has this foundation in place, he or she is able to cope with challenges and setbacks, and is more apt to contribute to his or her community. PYD approaches engage youth, their families, and caring community members to provide the scaffolding that young people need to identify and develop their strengths, minimize risks, and buffer against psychological problems. PYD complements and can accommodate much of our new knowledge about adolescent brain development and the research on contemporary issues facing adolescents.

Principles of Positive Youth Development

  • All youth need support and scaffolding
  • Identify and build on strengths
  • Include and engage youth whenever possible
  • Caring families and communities are critical
  • Problem free does not mean fully prepared
  • Fully prepared does not mean fully engaged

Why Positive Youth Development?

  • An optimistic and proactive approach that offers alternatives to focusing on problems and deficits
  • Engages youth and empowers them to build strengths and assume leadership
  • A theory and research-based approach useful in program and policy development and increasingly embraced by funding sources
  • Provides a rationale and common understanding used in decision making
  • Consistent with research on adolescent brain development and authoritative parenting

What Does PYD Accomplish?

  • Engages youth and develops competence, confidence, and character
  • Improves self-esteem, self-efficacy, and self-control
  • Facilitates caring relationships with peers, parents, and other adults
  • Builds and strengthens connections with school and other institutions
  • Encourages goal setting and healthy decision making and lifestyle choices
  • Supports contributions to family and community

Putting Positive Youth Development into Practice

  • See youth as resources, not problems
  • Help young people identify their strengths
  • Surround youth with caring adults to provide positive role models to help them learn skills and appropriate behaviors
  • Engage youth, but provide scaffolding
  • Structure challenging experiences to help build complex, adaptive brains by increasing potential for forming and sustaining neuronal connections
  • Provide opportunities for “safe” risk-taking to build confidence and competence
  • Encourage paid work, internships, and volunteering
  • Acknowledge and encourage healthy behaviors and choices
  • Provide opportunities to make decisions and coaching in decision making
  • Assist youth in conceptualizing help-seeking as mature behavior
  • Ensure youth know how to access quality mental health and reproductive health services
  • Encourage youth to think about and plan for the future
  • Provide opportunities to participate and contribute
  • Celebrate achievements and positive experiences

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