Positive Youth Development is a comprehensive way of thinking about the development of adolescents and the factors that facilitate their successful transition from adolescence to adulthood. The basic concepts emerged from several decades of research and practice innovation, and reflect profound changes in how we think about adolescents and their development.
Until the late 20th Century, adolescence was generally seen as a period of turmoil. Anyone wishing to facilitate healthy adolescent development focused on the management of risk factors. Parents, teachers, and youth service professionals tried to identify and fix the problems affecting youth: school failure and dropout, unemployment, unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse, and crime. This deficit-based approach to adolescence focused on what can go wrong in a young person’s development. The individual treatment philosophy of the original juvenile court movement often embodied this approach.
Positive youth development could be an effective framework for designing general interventions for young offenders. Such a framework would encourage youth justice systems to focus on protective factors as well as risk factors, strengths as well as problems, and broader efforts to facilitate successful transitions to adulthood for justice-involved youth.
The positive youth development approach supports youth in making successful transitions from adolescence to early adulthood by encouraging young people to develop useful skills and competencies, and to build stronger connections with pro-social peers, families, and communities. Young people engaged with trustworthy adults and peers in the pursuit of meaningful activities and the acquisition of new skills are more likely to build the developmental assets needed for a positive adulthood. These assets include physical and psychological safety; age-appropriate and meaningful relationships; opportunities to belong; positive social norms; self-efficacy; opportunities for skill building and collective recognition; and the integration of family, school, and community resources.
Listen to some of the top experts on adolescent development concepts as they are applied in the youth justice system. It’s like a mini-graduate course in 42 minutes.
Catalano, R.F., M.L. Berglund, H.S. Lonczak and J.D. Hawkins (2004). Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591(1): 98-124.
Lerner, R.M., J.B. Almerigi, C. Theokas and J.V. Lerner (2005). Positive youth development: A view of the issues. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25(1): 10-16.
Silbereisen, R.K. and R.M. Lerner, Editors (2007). Approaches to positive youth development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.