Caring Adults in Action - Helping America's Youth
Youth do not grow up in isolation. They live and develop in many different contexts. These include their families, classrooms, peer groups, neighborhoods, and religious settings. These settings provide the critical structures, resources, and opportunities that help them grow and thrive. Youth are also affected by their communities and, more broadly, by their surrounding culture.
Because youth are engaged in all of these settings, community leaders should consider interventions that touch upon many different contexts. A young person’s development is enhanced when interconnections between different contexts—such as family and school—work well and when there is good communication between the adults in those settings—such as between parents and teachers. While programs that target a very specific issue, such as drug use, may lead to some significant results, the most effective programs work on multiple levels. It is best when youth receive consistent messages over time from every sector of the community.
This inclusive approach supports the basic principles of positive youth development.
what is positive youth development?
Positive youth development is an approach that focuses on young people’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. Many adults tend to view youth as “problems” to be solved, rather than as assets who can contribute much to their communities. The term “youth development” often refers to a specific approach to working with young people in which youth are actively engaged in their own development and are positively involved in their communities. Community organizations and programs that use this approach create environments in which young people thrive.
There are eight important features of community programs that promote positive youth development. Programs with these features can help young people develop important assets, such as good health habits, success in school, and attachment to positive influences such as schools, religious organizations, and community-based youth programs. These important features of programs include:
- Promoting a sense of safety;
- Providing appropriate structure;
- Creating supportive relationships;
- Providing opportunities to belong;
- Providing positive social norms, such as rules for behavior;
- Giving youth responsibilities and meaningful challenges;
- Providing opportunities for skill building; and
- Coordinating family, school, and community programming.
Positive youth development is an ongoing and intentional process. Young people need supports such as acceptance, high expectations, affection, and warmth. They also need opportunities to explore, create, contribute, and belong. Finally, they need relationships with parents, relatives, teachers, coaches, and other caring adults.