Positive Youth Development

Stevie spends extra time after school, hanging out with friends instead of going home. Those friends sometimes do things Stevie doesn’t feel comfortable with, but Stevie doesn’t have many options since there’s no money for after school programs and other opportunities.

Stevie often shows up late to school and misses most of first period, which may lead to failing History. It was a  favorite subject in middle school, but now that Stevie’s mom works overnight, getting to school on time is a struggle.

Stevie needs positive youth development opportunities, both in school and during out-of-school time, but what exactly does that look like? 

Positive Youth Development (PYD) is “a research-based framework or approach that communities can use to help young people develop to their full potential.” In short, it’s programs, organizations, and relationships with people who want to enrich the lives of youth so they may learn, grow, and succeed.

When it comes to positive youth development, one might first think about all the things we need to ‘fix’, or about eliminating risk factors (things that cause negative outcomes). Reducing risks that have negative consequences should be coupled with an array of positive opportunities and experiences. However, risk reduction alone isn’t always the most effective course of action and sometimes it may not be possible at all.  

Instead of focusing only on risk reduction, we should focus on building resiliency through protective factors or things that ultimately lead to positive outcomes. These factors will help protect youth from those risk factors, while also helping them gain important learning experiences and skills. Building that resiliency can carry lifelong positive effects for a young person, because we know adversity does not stop after adolescence!

Search Institute has identified two types of protective factors, which they call assets: Internal and External. You may recognize these terms from our blog about Developmental Assets. When youth have positive adult and peer  role models in their life, those role models can help them develop as an individual AND protect them from negative influences.

The PYD framework primarily focuses on those external factors and seeks to make youth a part of a community based collaboration. “Rather than focusing solely on behavior change among youth, the positive youth development approach seeks to change the environments in which young people grow, act, and make decisions.” Engaging youth as partners in PYD efforts is vital to the success of effective programs.

If you’re anything like us, you’re already excited to help with positive youth development and want to know where to start.

  1. Mentor a young person. There are programs all over OKC, like Big Brothers, Big Sisters, that give adults the chance to work directly with the youth. Maybe this feels like a big commitment? Then try finding a young person in your life who needs some motivation and direction. That’s mentorship, too!
  2. Educate yourself on programs providing basic needs for young people. The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma offers various services under their Food for Kids program. This program is especially important because, as we well know, youth cannot further develop in and out of school if their basic needs are not being met. If these programs speak to you, try to get involved!
  3. Support organizations that encourage young people to make healthy decisions. Our classroom educators and SHAPE program offer direct service to thousands of youth annually. The education we provide helps young people learn how to have positive relationships and keep themselves safe, while motivating them to reach their goals and dreams.