More and more, parents, educators and youth workers (and grant-writers) are becoming familiar with the principles of Positive Youth Development (PYD). The buzz is growing; are you part of the movement? PYD is a “comprehensive framework outlining the supports young people need in order to be successful… [emphasizing] the importance of focusing on youths’ strengths instead of their risk factors to ensure that all youth grow up to become contributing adults,” according to the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth (an information resource of the Family and Youth Services Bureau within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). PYD is a huge paradigm-shift for a lot of people – we are so used to focusing on what is not happening good, or often, enough; it can be difficult to focus on people’s strengths and assets instead.
The Youth Development Institute has found that young people need:
· Close relationships with adults
· High expectations
· Engaging activities
· Opportunities for contribution
· Continuity of adult supports over time
So, just how do people measure what young people need? Effective youth work is research-based. Tons of studieshave been conducted to measure the experiences of people as youth and their productivity and circumstances as adults. After-all, the term ‘at-risk youth’ itself implies that the current circumstances, behavior and/or attitudes of a youth predicts that they are at-risk of an increased likelihood of struggles as an adult.
How do I make sense of what young people need? There are several helpful tools for using the principles of PYD to effect change with the young people in your life. A particularly helpful tool are the 40 Developmental Assets: “40 common sense, positive experiences and qualities that help influence choices young people make and help them become caring, responsible adults,” developed by the Search Institute. They’ve been able to show that the more assets a young person has, the more they are protected from engaging in risky behaviors and the more they are likely to engage in healthy behaviors and attitudes. Their website provides handy worksheets for helping you evaluate how many assets your young people posses and how you can build more.
Why does PYD matter? PYD matters because kids vote with their feet – the first step to youth work is having a captive audience in the first place. “Build it and they will come” doesn’t usually work for youth programming. A program grounded in the principles and strategies of PYD will attract young people, and with more than 15 million school-age children left unsupervised afterschool (Afterschool Alliance, 2009), its critical that kids have safe places both available and appealing to them. Looking at afterschool programs in particular, the benefits of a high quality program are clear: Teens who do not participate in afterschool programs are nearly three times more likely to use marijuana or other drugs, and are more likely to drink, smoke and engage in sexual activity (YMCA of the USA, March 2001) and an analysis of 73 afterschool studies concluded that afterschool programs using evidence-based approaches were consistently successful in producing multiple benefits for youth, including improvements in children’s personal, social and academic skills, as well as their self-esteem (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2007).
What can you do? Get involved and join the PYD movement! Check out our resources page for more information and links to other groups that are helping lead the way.