In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Positive Youth Development

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Manuals and Guides
  • Journals
  • Federal Policy

Social Work Positive Youth Development
Yolanda Anyon, Jeffrey M. Jenson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 January 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0145


Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a framework used to design and guide programs and services for children and youth. PYD emphasizes the relationship between young people’s strengths and resources and their capacity to live healthy and productive lives. The underlying tenets of PYD suggest that healthy child and youth development is characterized by a sense of responsibility, connectedness, and positive values. Put into practice, key PYD strategies include identifying youth strengths, engaging and motivating young people to support positive growth through these strengths, working with youth as collaborators, and harnessing resources that exist in a young person’s environment. PYD advocates assert that common risk-oriented prevention and intervention frameworks fail to consider the idea that preventing a problem from occurring does not guarantee that youth are developing and growing in a healthy manner. Thus, from a PYD perspective healthy development is not simply the absence of problem behavior but it also includes the cultivation of resources and strengths within a child and her or his particular context. Ultimately, PYD suggests that young people who have mutually beneficial relationships with other people and institutions will enter adulthood as positive and successful contributors. In this sense, individuals and their respective social ecologies—peers, schools, families, and communities—are active contributors to the developmental process and promotion of well-being. Today, on-the-ground proponents of PYD are social workers and other individuals who advocate for policy change and funding for interventions and community-based services aimed at promoting healthy youth development. The grassroots efforts of advocates and interdisciplinary research efforts of scholars have also contributed greatly to a recent proliferation in PYD programs for children and youth. The PYD model has much to offer practitioners, community and program planners, and administrators seeking to develop or improve interventions and program services for children and youth. The positive focus on healthy child and adolescent development that the framework embodies has stimulated a rapid increase in PYD programs since the turn of the 21st century. More important, positive outcomes garnered from participants of PYD programs have now begun to support the utility of the model in real-world contexts. Yet as the field has grown, so have challenges in characterizing what constitutes a PYD program, organization, policy, or set of practices. In part, these definitional issues reflect the diverse disciplinary, philosophical, and theoretical roots of PYD as a framework for understanding developmental processes, informing direct practice with youth, and guiding program, organization, and policy development. PYD approaches are implemented in and out of school settings, as well as through traditional youth service organizations and youth activism agencies, and they have been studied by scholars in education, social work, sociology, and psychology. To address the definitional challenges that are common in a young, interdisciplinary field of study, this bibliography parallels the typological approach taken in widely cited national reports and systematic literature reviews. It includes broad array of research, practice, and policy efforts that are aligned with PYD approaches to youth programming. More specifically, the following qualitative criteria were used to select organizations, interventions, and programs for inclusion in this bibliography: (1) they primarily focus on improving positive developmental outcomes, and (2) they employ many of the following practice and programmatic approaches: provide consistent structure; create safe spaces to bond and build relationships; offer inclusive opportunities for identity development; convey high expectations and rewards for positive behavior; support youth involvement and self-determination; provide opportunities to learn interactively and apply useful skills; and integrate family, school, and community efforts.

Introductory Works

Lerner and colleagues (Lerner, et al. 2005; Lerner, et al. 2009) describe the fundamental principles of PYD. They created the 6 C’s of PYD to describe the psychological, behavioral, and social attributes hypothesized to be characteristic of a thriving and well-adapted young person. They include competence, connection, character, confidence, caring and compassion, and contribution. The 6 C’s are also viewed frequently as outcomes by which attitudes and behavior can be measured and thus are the targets of many PYD interventions. Benson 1997 and Benson 2003 describe how a developmental assets framework contributes to PYD principles and models. In subsequent work, Damon 2004; Eccles and Appleton 2002; Jenson, et al. 2013; McLaughlin 2000; and Roth and Brooks-Gunn 2003 show how an integrated approach that aims to combine principles of risk and PYD into a single, comprehensive intervention framework is effective in promoting positive development in young people.

  • Benson, P. L. 1997. All kids are our kids: What communities must do to raise caring and responsible children and adolescents. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Introduces an assets- or strengths-based approach to promoting positive behaviors in children and youth. Provides examples of individual- and community-level assets in young people.

  • Benson, P. L. 2003. Developmental assets and asset-building community: Conceptual and empirical foundations. In Developmental assets and asset-building communities: Implications for research, policy, and practice. Edited by R. M. Lerner and P. L. Benson, 19–43. Norwell, MA: Kluwer.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4615-0091-9

    Provides a description of the conceptual framework for an assets or strengths model of understanding child and adolescent development. The assets model developed by Benson and colleagues at the Search Institute informed the early direction and development of PYD.

  • Damon, W. 2004. What is positive youth development? The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 591:13–24.

    DOI: 10.1177/0002716203260092

    Examines ways in which research on PYD has informed current understanding of the state of childhood, the interaction between children and environment, and moral development in young people.

  • Eccles, J., and J. A. Appleton, eds. 2002. Community programs to promote youth development. Washington, DC: National Academy.

    Reviews data on community interventions that promote healthy adolescent development and identifies gaps related to developing a unified framework for interventions seeking to promote PYD. Provides an overview of key developmental outcomes and features of positive developmental settings.

  • Jenson, J. M., C. F. Alter, N. Nicotera, E. K. Anthony, and S. S. Forrest-Bank. 2013. Risk, resilience, and positive youth development: Developing effective community programs for high-risk youth: Lessons from the Denver Bridge Project. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Describes the Integrated Prevention and Early Intervention Model, an intervention framework for community-based programs that combines elements of risk, protection, resilience, and PYD. The model is applied to a case study of an urban after-school program.

  • Lerner, R. M., J. B. Almerigi, C. Theokas, and J. V. Lerner. 2005. Positive youth development: A view of the issues. The Journal of Early Adolescence 25:10–16.

    DOI: 10.1177/0272431604273211

    Describes the evolution of PYD and current issues confronting the advancement of the model. The utility and influence of the 5 C’s on programs for children and youth are discussed. Future steps necessary to advance PYD in practice are noted.

  • Lerner, R. M., J. V. Lerner, and E. Phelps. 2009. Waves of the future: The first five years of the 4-H study of positive youth development. Medford, MA: Tufts Univ., Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development.

    Presents findings from a national evaluation of participation in 4-H programs. PYD measures are used to assess program effects across eight waves of data collection. Positive outcomes in key PYD constructs are reported by the authors.

  • McLaughlin, M. W. 2000. Community counts: How youth organizations matter for youth development. Washington, DC: Public Education Network.

    Provides case studies and outlines promising practices employed by effective community-based youth development organizations, drawing on longitudinal qualitative research with adolescents and youth workers.

  • Roth, J. L., and J. Brooks-Gunn. 2003. Youth development programs: Risk, prevention and policy. Journal of Adolescent Health 32:170–182.

    DOI: 10.1016/S1054-139X(02)00421-4

    Reviews forty-eight studies that described programs based on principles of PYD. Particular attention is made to describing programs and outcomes that focus on increasing the 6 C’s of PYD.

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