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What is Youth Development?

Another Way to Look at Outcomes
Building on resiliency research and Native American philosophy of child rearing, the Circle of Courage framework promoted by Reclaiming Youth International is based on four basic developmental needs of youth:
  • Belonging - connectedness to social groups and institutions
  • Mastery - competencies
  • Independence - confidence, leadership
  • Generosity - empathy, contribution
ACT for Youth Resources: Understanding PYD

Manual: Positive Youth Development 101

Use this free curriculum to provide professional development to new youth workers, supervisors and administrators, funders, and community volunteers.


Principles for Youth Development

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

In this edition of Research Facts and Findings, Janis Whitlock of Cornell University reviews key features of the positive youth development framework.


Formatted for Screen Readers

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)

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.


Positive Youth Development Outcomes

In 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 (PDF). Forum for Youth Investment.
[4]   Lerner, R. (2007). The Good Teen. New York: Crown.
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