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Youth Development

Youth Development

Positive Youth Development is a policy perspective that emphasizes providing services and opportunities to support all young people in developing a sense of a competence, usefulness, belonging and empowerment. While individual programs can provide youth development activities, the youth development approach works best when entire communities including young people are involved in creating a continuum of services and opportunities that youth need to grow into happy and healthy adults. 1

Youth Development is not a highly sophisticated prescription for “fixing troubled kids.” Rather, it is about people, programs, institutions and systems who provide all youth, “troubled” or not, with the supports and opportunities they need to empower themselves. Youth Development strategies focus on giving young people the chance to form relationships with caring adults, build skills, exercise leadership, and help their communities. 2

Youth Development is both a philosophy and an approach to policies and programs that serve young people. The underlying philosophy of youth development is holistic, preventative and positive, focusing on the development of assets and competencies in all young people.

Key elements to the Youth Development approach are the following: 3

  • Youth are viewed as a valued and respected asset to society;
    Policies and programs focus on the evolving developmental needs and tasks of adolescents, and involve youth as partners rather than clients;
  • Families, schools and communities are engaged in developing environments that support youth;
  • Adolescents are involved in activities that enhance their competence, connections, character, confidence and contribution to society;
  • Adolescents are provided an opportunity to experiment in a safe environment and to develop positive social values and norms;
  • and Adolescents are engaged in activities that promote self-understanding, self-worth, and a sense of belonging and resiliency.


  1. Positive Youth Development, National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth (NCFY), Silver Spring, Maryland, 2001, available at

  2. Center for Youth Development and Policy, “What is Youth Development?” Academy for Educational Development.

  3. This list of key elements draws on materials from: Teipel, K., Minnesota Adolescent Health Action Plan, forthcoming; findings from key informant interviews conducted by Stephen Conley for the Partnership; Community Programs to Promote Youth Development, National Academy Press, Washington, DC (January, 2002); and the National Youth Development Web site: