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What is Youth Development?

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A Note on Terminology
Youth development terminology is not fixed. "Youth development" may refer to a set of principles, a natural process that adolescents go through, or a range of practices used in programming. Similar sets of principles and practices are described by the terms "positive youth development" and "community youth development." On this site, ACT for Youth uses the terms "youth development" and "positive youth development" interchangeably.

For a discussion of the meanings of the term, see the article below by Stephen F. Hamilton, Mary Agnes Hamilton, and Karen Pittman (reprinted with permission).

Principles for Youth Development


Recommended Link
Preventing Problems, Promoting Development, Encouraging Engagement

This paper by Karen Pittman and colleagues at the Forum for Youth Investment summarizes shifts in policy and practice regarding youth development, and points to implications for those who work with or advocate for young people.


Principles of Positive Youth Development

Positive youth development is a framework that guides communities in the way they organize services, opportunities, and supports so that young people can develop to their full potential. Positive youth development is not just another program. Communities that adopt a youth development approach emphasize these principles:
  • Focus on strengths and positive outcomes. Rather than taking a deficit-based approach, communities intentionally help young people build on their strengths and develop the competencies, values, and connections they need for life and work.
  • Youth voice and engagement. Youth are valued partners who have meaningful, decision-making roles in programs and communities.
  • Strategies that involve all youth. Communities support and engage all youth rather than focusing solely on "high-risk" or "gifted" youth. Communities do, however, recognize the need to identify and respond to specific problems faced by some youth (such as violence or premature parenthood).
  • Community involvement and collaboration. Positive youth development includes but reaches beyond programs; it promotes organizational change and collaboration for community change. All sectors have a role to play in making the community a great place to grow up.
  • Long-term commitment. Communities provide the ongoing, developmentally appropriate support young people need over the first 20 years of their lives.

Featured Resources: Understanding Positive Youth Development

Manual: Positive Youth Development 101
Authored by Jutta Dotterweich, this curriculum offers an orientation to the youth development approach for professionals entering the field of youth work.

Principles for Youth Development (PDF)
An excellent overview by Stephen F. Hamilton, Mary Agnes Hamilton, and Karen Pittman is provided in this chapter of "The Youth Development Handbook: Coming of Age in American Communities." Reprinted with permission.

Understanding Youth Development Principles and Practices (PDF; formatted for screen readers)
In this edition of Research Facts and Findings, Janis Whitlock of Cornell University reviews key features of the positive youth development framework.

Positive Youth Development Resources in Spanish

Principios del Desarrollo de Jóvenes (Principles of Youth Development)
Resultados Positivos de Jóvenes (Positive Outcomes)
Etapas del Desarrollo en Adolescentes (Stages of Adolescent Development summary chart)

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