ACT for Youth Center of Excellence

Positive Youth Development Outcomes

Positive Youth Development OutcomesIn the early 1990s Karen Pittman, an early advocate for positive youth development, coined the phrase "Problem-free isn't fully prepared" [1]. Pittman led the charge to shift the paradigm in youth work from preventing and "fixing" behavior deficits to building and nurturing "all the beliefs, behaviors, knowledge, attributes, and skills that result in a healthy and productive adolescence and adulthood" [2]. Her approach was supported by resiliency research as well as the emergence of 40 developmental assets identified by Search Institute.

Building on available youth development research and theory, Pittman offered the model of 5 Cs as a framework for understanding positive youth development outcomes [3]:

  • Confidence - a sense of self-worth and mastery; having a sense of self-efficacy (belief in one's capacity to succeed)
  • Character - taking responsibility; a sense of independence and individuality; connection to principles and values
  • Connection - a sense of safety, structure, and belonging; positive bonds with people and social institutions
  • Competence - the ability to act effectively in school, in social situations, and at work
  • Contribution - active participation and leadership in a variety of settings; making a difference
In his 2007 book "The Good Teen," Richard M. Lerner includes an additional outcome [4]:
  • Caring - a sense of sympathy and empathy for others; commitment to social justice

Moving Toward Positive Outcomes

Youth development research suggests a promising direction for promoting positive outcomes for youth: attending to both risk and protective factors. Addressing risk factors while nurturing protective factors will increase positive outcomes for young people.

How can communities put this approach into action? Pittman has identified a simple Services, Opportunities, and Supports framework that categorizes the "inputs" needed to promote positive youth development:

  • Services provide stability and satisfy basic needs, including health and instructional needs.
  • Opportunities at home, in school, and in the community give youth developmentally appropriate ways to explore and experience new roles and skills.
  • Supports are positive relationships, social structures, and resources.


In the youth development context, evaluation measures progress toward or achievement of positive outcomes for youth. Evaluation helps identify factors that can lead to the success or failure of an initiative or program. Frequently, youth can serve as evaluators alongside adult stakeholders (Youth Participatory Evaluation).

Positive youth development initiatives, which are often ambitious and innovative, can be difficult to measure. However, if we are to understand how to improve our efforts, we must develop increasing sophistication in our evaluation methods.


[1]   Pittman, K. (1999). Youth Today: The Power of Engagement. Forum for Youth Investment.
[2]   New York State Advancing Youth Development Partnership. (2006). Revised AYD Curriculum.
[3]   Pittman, K., Irby, M., Tolman, J., N. Yohalem, N., & Ferber, T. (2003). Preventing Problems, Promoting Development, Encouraging Engagement. Forum for Youth Investment.
[4]   Lerner, R. (2007). The Good Teen. New York: Crown.