Seminal Youth Development Literature By: Carolina Moquete & Natalie Martinez

What is Positive Youth Development (PYD)?

According to the Interagency on Working Group Youth Programs, "PYD is an intentional, prosocial approach that engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes, and enhances young people’s strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths" (As cited in

In the article titled Positive Youth Development in the United States", authors Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczack and Hawkins (2004) list the objectives or constructs that youth development workers should aim to find within positive youth development programs: Promotes bonding and social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral & moral competencies, Fosters self-determination, resilience, spirituality, self-efficacy, clear & positive identity, belief in the future and pro-social norms, and Provides recognition for positive behavior and opportunities for pro-social involvement.

The Positive Youth Development Evaluation project addresses the ways in which “policy makers, practitioners, and prevention scientists advocated a shift in approach for how youth issues are addressed in this they have been defined in the literature” (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, Hawkins, 2004, p.98). In this article, the main argument that Catalano et. al (2004) address is the necessity to shift the focus from prevention programs to positive youth development programs.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, there was a greater focus on prevention programs. For example, in the 1950s, an increase in juvenile crime and concerns about troubled youth led the United States to seek major federal funding initiatives to address these issues. During the 1960s, as these treads continued so did the national rates of poverty, divorce, out-of-wedlock births, family mobility, and single parenthood increased. Although these approaches were beneficial, a more proactive-focused approach instead of a reactionary one, proved to be more impactful as further research became available. By the 1990's there was a significant shift from a deficit model to a PYD Model (as illustrated in the picture above). "Both positive youth development advocates and prevention scientists now encourage attention to the importance of social and environmental factors that affect the successful completion of developmental tasks" (Catalano, Berglund, Ryan, Lonczak, Hawkins, 2004, p.101).

Similarly, in the article Unfinished Business: Further Reflections on a Decade of Promoting Youth Development by Pittman, Irby & Ferber (1998), we learned that the shift in approaching youth development and the ways in which we prepared them for adulthood, had a great impact on how young people were served in their schools, health care institutions and communities. Two commissions known as The Carnegie Commission’s Turning Points (1989) and The Grant Commission's The Forgotten Half (1988) focused on different age groups and different systems.

"The Forgotten Half helped focus the country’s attention on a vulnerable population—noncollege-bound youth—simultaneously pushing age boundaries for support and challenging the adequacy of social, economic and vocational supports for those not in trouble but not in college. The Carnegie report focused on a younger age group and the systems that serve them—schools, health care institutions and community-based organizations" (p.19). Both of them offered desired youth outcomes, broad agendas for systematic and social reforms and both focused on preparing youth "rather than solely focusing on prevention or amelioration of their problems" (Pittman, Irby & Ferber, 1998).

However, author Reed Larson aimed to focus more on the ways in which involving youth in their own programming and activities helped to increase participation and effectiveness in their own individual development. In his article titled Toward a Psychology of Positive Youth Development (2000), he stresses how “structured voluntary activities, such as sports, arts, and participation in organizations, in which youths experience the rare combination of intrinsic motivation in combination with deep attention" (p.170) and how "structured voluntary youth activities provide a fertile context for positive development, particularly the development of initiative” (p. 178).

Intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. In other words, the motivation to engage in a behavior arises from within the individual because it is intrinsically rewarding. Students who are not engaged are less likely to do well in school or participate in after school activities. Larson mentions that "high rates of boredom, alienation, and disconnection from meaningful challenge are not signs of psychopathology, at least not in most cases, but rather signs of a deficiency in positive development. The same might be said for many cases of problem behavior, such as drug use, premature sexual involvement, and minor delinquency-- that they are more parsimoniously described, not as responses to family stress, emotional disturbance, or realadaptive cognitions, but rather to the absence of engagement in a positive life trajectory" (p.170) Finding ways to alleviate boredom is a key way to get youth more involved in their own activities and enjoyment.

Discussion Questions: What are the different ways that we can encourage our youth to be motivated to set themselves on the course of action aimed at reaching adult goals and professional development to help produce a positive outcomes for the youth?


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