Positive Youth Development

Essential Elements of Youth Development

Time and time again research has proven the need for the existence of strong youth development programs within communities.  The entire community, including families, schools, local government, business and youth themselves has responsibilities in helping to provide for and create an environment where youth have opportunities to thrive.   Youth, after all, are the future of the community.  

A positive youth development approach considers the whole young person, not just a single characteristic or problem.  Youth development is dependent on family and community development as it occurs in the context of the family, community and society.  Youth development is designed to focus on the positive outcomes we desire for young people, not the negative we hope to prevent.

Through research, we can define (among other competencies) eight essential elements youth need now, in order to experience economic and social success in adulthood while making positive contributions to their communities.  These eight essential elements include: a positive relationship with a caring adult; a safe environment; an inclusive environment; engagement in learning; opportunity for mastery; opportunity to see oneself as an active participant in the future; opportunity for self determination; and the opportunity to value and practice service for others. 

When broken down a bit further, the aforementioned eight elements sync into four distinctively difference concept areas including independence, belonging, generosit and mastery. 

Independence- Youth need to know and understand that their decisions and actions often hold the power to influence others and/or events.   Through the practice of independence, youth mature in self-discipline and responsibility. They learn to better understand themselves and often become independent thinkers.

Belonging- Youth need to feel a sense of connection and caring in relation to their peers and adults with whom they have interaction.  Providing the opportunity for youth to feel both physically and emotionally safe while being active participants within a group or organization is vitally important to creating positive outcomes in relation to youth development.    Additionally, research consistently emphasizes the need for youth to have opportunities to experience long-term positive relationships with caring adults, other than their parents, in order to experience that sense of belonging.

Generosity- Creating the opportunity where a youth feels their life has meaning and purpose directly correlates to their ability to understand the “big picture” of life and enhances their ability in understanding the concept of giving back to communities and society (civic engagement).

Mastery- Self-confidence is a primary component needed by all youth to thrive.  Self-confidence is developed when a youth feels and believes that they are capable and find success in solving problems and achieving goals. Additionally, youth need a safe environment by which to practice and build self-confidence, an environment where they are supported when mistakes are made and where positive and constructive feedback is given.  Competitive events should not be the only outlet by which youth build confidence and/or seek mastery of various hobbies or interests.

As adults, our responses to youth characteristics or behaviors often dictate whether a youth will find their needs met in a positive or negative way.  By choosing to act, we better our chances at meeting the needs of youth in a positive way, choosing not to act, greatly diminishes future outcomes.  Our ability to support the needs of youth within this community in ways which produce positive youth development outcomes, greatly enhances our ability as a community to raise the next generation fully prepared and willing to be active participants within this community.  Keep in mind that problem-free does not necessarily equate to being fully prepared. 

To learn more about positive youth development research or about the Eight Essential Elements of Youth Development, please contact Jamie Davis at the Lake County Extension Office.