Promoting Health and Well-Being During Adolescence
Youth Development Definition – Promoting Health and Well-Being During Adolescence
Adolescence is both a time of risk and opportunity. It is a time when many teens become ready to shed their family dependencies and begin establishing their own identities.
Rather than the deficit model of adolescence that focuses on reducing risky behaviors and mental illness, positive youth development (PYD) views adolescents as assets to cultivate.
There is growing interest in youth development as an approach to promoting health and well-being for young people. While concerns about risky behaviors and mental illness draw the most attention of parents, community leaders and policy-makers, there is also a recognition that more needs to be understood regarding healthy development during adolescence.
The youth development approach offers a different perspective to prevention and intervention models by emphasizing the importance of youth strengths in building healthy lives. This framework guides communities in organizing services, opportunities and supports that help youth reach their full potential.
Many researchers and practitioners agree that a key aspect of this approach is the inclusion of youth in planning and policy-making processes. However, it is frequently difficult to garner support for this effort due to the wide range of values and perspectives that participants bring to collaborative efforts. A 1996 report from the National Clearing-house on Families and Youth noted that collaboration among agencies that believe in a youth development philosophy often conflict with one another over specific approaches and methods to implementation.
As opposed to prevention approaches that focus on reducing problems such as drug abuse and teen pregnancy, positive youth development (PYD) recognizes that young people can be assets in their communities. It is an intentional process that promotes asset building, focuses on youth as resources, and fosters positive relationships.
A key aspect of the PYD approach is a focus on youth strengths, especially hope and sense of purpose. These internal strengths are essential for developing a healthy identity, coping with adversity, and engaging in lifelong learning.
A well-designed PYD program enhances these strengths by providing opportunities to learn, interact with peers, engage in service activities and participate in community decision-making processes. For example, many cities are allowing youth to serve on governing boards such as library councils, parks and recreation committees and city councils. These youth are given full voting privileges to ensure that their views are heard. The goal is to develop youth as agents of change who are able to take control of their own future and make positive contributions to society.
Positive youth development is both a philosophy and an approach to improving the lives of young people. Its foundations include promoting asset building, considering youth as resources, and fostering positive relationships.
While reducing risky behaviors such as drug use and teen pregnancy are important, these problems are only part of the story. Research shows that young people who have a sense of purpose, hope, confidence and competence also have less health-compromising behavior.
As such, effective programs are not designed to reduce risks in isolation; they’re built around youths’ strengths and assets. A strong emphasis is placed on the development of positive, caring relationships with adults. It’s these relationships that help young people feel supported, safe and valued and are the key to their resilience. In addition, youths need a variety of internal strengths and a sense of community to thrive. YDEKC is dedicated to supporting youths in these areas through their families, schools and communities.
The outcomes of positive youth development are diverse, but evidence suggests that the experiences and opportunities offered by well-designed programs can improve a host of personal and societal outcomes. These include improved academic performance and achievement, stronger social connections, reduced risky behaviors (including sex, drug and alcohol abuse, and gang involvement), and higher levels of civic engagement and volunteerism.
A wealth of research on extracurricular activities reveals vast differences in the experiences and outcomes of participation, yet too often conclusions drawn about one type of activity are assumed to apply to all types. Few empirical studies investigate how demographic and individual factors influence or are influenced by program contexts, and even fewer examine interactions and reciprocal relations between different contextual influences on adolescents’ engagement with organized activities.
Successful programs provide welcoming atmospheres, a balance of youth ownership and adult guidance, and the flexibility to allow adolescents to move voluntarily in and out of different organizational contexts. Such findings underscore the need for more research on youth programs that take a contextual view of the impact of these programs.