Positive Youth Development

Positive Youth Development, or PYD, is based on a body of research suggesting that certain “protective factors,” or positive influences, can help young people succeed and keep them from having problems. According to this research:

  • Young people may have fewer behavioral problems and may be better prepared for a successful transition to adulthood if they have a variety of opportunities to learn and participate at home, at school, in community-based programs and in their neighborhoods.
  • Some of the elements that can protect young people and put them on the path to success include family support, caring adults, positive peer groups, a strong sense of self and self-esteem, and involvement at school and in the community.

PYD favors leadership and skill-building opportunities under the guidance of caring adults. It looks at youth as assets to be developed and gives them the means to build successful futures.

Evidence for PYD

In an attempt to find out what types of programs encourage positive growth in young people, a committee of youth policy experts at the National Research Council of the Institute of Medicine undertook a two-year review of theoretical research and promising programs to determine which features of positive developmental settings could be proven effective. They released their results in 2002. They found that programs were more successful if they provided youth with:

  • Physical and psychological safety and security
  • Clear expectations for behavior, as well as increasing opportunities to make decisions, to participate in governance and rule-making, and to take on leadership roles as one matures and gains more expertise 
  • Emotional and moral support 
  • Supportive adult relationships 
  • Opportunities to form close, durable human relationships with peers that support and reinforce healthy behaviors 
  • A sense of belonging and personal value 
  • Opportunities to develop positive social values and norms 
  • Opportunities for skill building and mastery 
  • Opportunities to develop confidence in their abilities to master their environment 
  • Opportunities to make a contribution to their community and to develop a sense of mattering
  • Strong links between families, schools, and broader community resources

Researchers have evaluated many programs that target specific issues (e.g., substance abuse prevention) using a PYD approach. And there is a growing body of evidence that PYD programs can prevent a variety of risk behaviors among young people and improve social and emotional outcomes.

For example, an evaluation over time of local 4-H programs looked at how positive influences in the lives of youth help protect against problems. Youth consistently engaged in 4-H were found to be at much lower risk of having personal, social and behavioral problems than other youth. They were less likely to smoke and drink than their peers, had better grades and were more likely to expect to attend college.

However, a comprehensive review of all the available evidence on PYD is still needed.

FYSB and PYD

As part of its mission to provide leadership on youth and family issues, FYSB promotes PYD among federal agencies, states, local governments, youth workers and the general public. FYSB and its staff believe that youth programs enhance their services when they give young people as many of the positive elements identified by the National Academies of Science as possible.
Here are some ways FYSB spreads the message about PYD:

Things to Read

Want to read more about PYD?

Youth Speak Out

Young people talk about their experiences with Positive Youth Development in this podcast series, produced for FYSB by NCFY.
Portions of this Web page were adapted from material on the FindYouthInfo.gov website and in NCFY’s “Putting Positive Youth Development Into Practice.