Positive Youth Development Trainings...
Positive Youth Development
Positive Youth Development can be described as a philosophical practice that strives to enable agencies, programs, and communities to engage youth in a manner that promotes positive and healthy transitions from adolescence to adulthood while enabling youth to reach their full developmental potential. To date, there is not a clear or concise definition of Positive Youth Development. However, there is overarching agreement by youth development professionals on which key principles are critical to be implemented by communities and programs that involve youth.
Due to this inconcise definition, practitioners and programs are able to use their discretion in defining how Positive Youth Development is shaped in their program or community, as long as key components are implemented. These core components include a strengths-based focus on creating opportunities, learning experiences, and supports that enable youth to feel connected to others, prepared for life events through multiple competencies, and enable youth to be engaged in meaningful activities.
Positive Youth Development Philosophies…
Traditional approaches to working with youth tend to target specific youth, instruct youth on what they need to do to improve, and make plans for youth with little to no input from youth. This approach assumes that the adults or programs know what is best for the youth.
Positive Youth Development recognizes that, while practitioners might think they know what is best, youth have to determine in their own way and in their own time what is and is not meaningful to them. With youth-directed motivation for personal and social participation/change, self efficacy and self worth are obtained/maintained. Youth voice and respect for youth voice are critical in assisting youth transition between different developmental stages. It is critical that short and long-term goals not be initially identified by adults working with youth, but from individual youth. The role of adults is to support, encourage, and offer guidance in areas youth might request assistance with. Because of this vantage point, Positive Youth Development does not focus on the problems youth experience, but instead focuses on what youth need in order to thrive.
Programs implementing Positive Youth Development nurture positive outcomes by providing protective factors that serve to enable youth to direct themselves through their own competencies, belief systems, and desires. Homeless and runaway youth don’t desire to live their lives on the streets, but believe they have no other options for various different reasons. Agencies who implement Positive Youth Development work with youth in developing their own driven plan for getting off the streets while, at the same time, providing caring and supportive relationships that enable youth to develop wellness at their own pace and in their own unique way.
Positive Youth Development also views youth as resources and partners who can make important contributions in planning and implementing activities in their communities. When all is said and done, PYD goals challenge communities to interact in ways that traditional services fail to address because youth wellness is not simply a job for professionals to take on so much as an obligation all community members carry.
The following components of Positive Youth Development are pivotal in supporting an environment that enables youth to thrive as identified in the Positive Youth Development Resource Manual compiled by the ACT for Youth Upstate Center of Excellence :
Young people need opportunities to engage in meaningful activities, have a voice, take responsibility for their actions, and actively participate in civic discourse. When youth are not engaged in meaningful activities or in environments that honor their voice, they are at risk for feeling their existence has no meaning for others or themselves. Any social exchange that promotes validity in youth voice and experience will decrease risk factors that result from disconnection from self and others, or from past or current negative social engagements.
For runaway and homeless youth this might involve youth participation in program development, oversight, and community events that promote social connectedness.
Young people need to belong, to be connected to family and community to thrive. A growing body of brain research indicates that we are hardwired to connect. The developmental consequences of social alienation hinder our abilities to learn, develop and interact with the world. Additionally, social connectedness enables us to experience an increased ability to formulate a greater sense of self identity and increased understanding of others in the world around us.
For runaway and homeless youth, having opportunities to experience connectedness is critical in providing a means to progress to a lifestyle that fosters security, hope, self-efficacy, and an overall sense of purpose. Providers might enlist youth to participate in community events that provide various different kinds of positive social interactions with both peers and adults.
Young people need to develop competencies and skills to ready themselves for overall wellness, work and adult life. Competencies range from cognitive, social, emotional, vocational, and cultural. With these competencies, youth are in a better position to successfully overcome adversity, as well as to accomplish personal goals.
Safety and Basic Needs
Young people need their needs met (shelter, food, etc) and to feel safe before they can grow and learn. Youth in survival mode do not thrive, due to biological brain responses to the environment and psychological focus on surviving.
Youth living on the streets, couch surfing, or in temporary shelters are consistently placed in unsafe situations in order to survive. They are particularly vulnerable to participating in unsafe activities when some sort of reassurance basic needs will be met is provided. Being in survival mode is just that, survival. It is not the time for the brain to focus on academic, professional, or even personal long-term goals…it is the time for the brain to focus on finding food and shelter.
This sets the agenda for positive youth development. This reflects a major shift in thinking. Instead of asking what we can do to prevent and fix behavior problems, we are asking what opportunities, learning experiences, supports do we need to give young people so that they feel connected, prepared and engaged.
Positive Youth Development Focus
ACT for Youth Upstate Center of Excellence Positive Youth Development Resource Manual identifies the following 6 areas of focus that Positive Youth Development strives to address:
Emphasis on positive outcomes
The approach highlights positive, healthy outcomes (in contrast to reducing negative outcomes such as teen pregnancy, substance abuse, violence). Although most parents have clear ideas what positive characteristics and behaviors they would like to see in their children, there is still a lack of clarity of what exactly positive outcomes are. Since researchers only recently have focused on positive outcomes, definitions and categories of positive outcomes are still evolving. Examples of desired youth development outcomes are competence (academic, social, vocational skills), self-confidence, connectedness (healthy relationship to community, friends, family), character (integrity, moral commitment), caring and compassion.
It is essential to include youth as active participants in any youth development initiative. They have to be equal partners in the process. Youth involvement presents a great challenge to adults and charges them to rethink how they have engaged in planning and program development and implementation.
Strategies aim to involve all youth
Youth development strategies are generally aimed at all youth. The assumption is that creating supportive and enriching environments for all youth will lead to the desired positive outcomes as well as reduced negative outcomes. However, experts in the field recognize the need to blend universal approaches with approaches that are targeting youth facing extra challenges.
Youth development assumes long-term commitment. Activities and supportive relationships have to endure for a long period of time to be effective. They have to accompany young people throughout their growing up years. While short-term positive results may be seen and should be built on, both community-organizing models mentioned below state that positive community-based, youth outcomes may not be measurable for 15-20 years. Youth development strategies have to embrace and ready themselves for long-term engagement.
Youth development stresses the importance to engage the larger social environment that influences how young people grow up and develop. This includes family and friends, but also the community they live in. Community is more than social service and youth organizations, schools, law enforcement agencies; it involves business, faith and civic groups, and private citizens who are not attached to any organization.
Currently there are two popular, researched community organizing models, Search Institute and Communities that Care, that provide strategies and tools to involve large sectors of the community in the task of making the community a better place for young people to grow up in.
Emphasis on collaboration
Youth development requires people from various agencies and community groups to work together. Collaboration can express itself in different forms e.g., agencies coming together to write a grant proposal to community groups forming a coalition to achieve one common goal by sharing resources and expertise.
Useful Youth Service Provider Materials
Positive Youth Development Resource Manual
Act For Youth Center of Excellence
This manual provides instruction, activities, power point slides, research studies, and even handouts for training administrators and staff on Positive Youth Development. It is free and comes from Act For Youth at the following website: www.actforyouth.net
Below is the PDF download in its entirety.