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How Positive Psychology Enhances Youth Development

There is a vast array of problems that youth of today may have to face. It can be a fast and confusing world taking place during such a crucial stage of adolescent cognitive, psychological, and social development.

Living a mentally, physically, and socially healthy life is something that is learned. Promoting positive youth development means helping youth understand what success means to them, and the characteristics and skills of a thriving, productive adult.

Many youth programs focus on the problem and target a specific group for prevention. There are many programs that offer assistance and education to prevent drug and alcohol use, teen pregnancy, and dropping out of school to name a few.

Positive Youth Development (PYD) on the other hand, is a framework to help youth be more hopeful, engaged, and thriving members of society. This is done through focusing on positive outcomes, strength of character, and how to cultivate well-being and life-satisfaction now and into the future.

PYD is often conceptualized by the five “Cs.” These are core values that provide a strengths based approach and outlines how to help youth be successful in the long-term. The five “Cs” include:

  • competence
  • confidence
  • connection
  • character
  • caring

There is also a sixth “C” that can be including in this list which is “contribution.”

Positive youth development works for systemic change within the community and surrounding resources. Ideally, collaboration comes from parents, schools, community centers and other institutions to create a safe environment for youth to grow, learn, and take an active role in the community.

The four things youth need to thrive according to ACT for Youth PYD Resource Manual:

1. Having their needs meet, such as shelter, food, safety etc. Youth in survival mode do not thrive.

2. Preparedness – Young people need to develop competencies and skills to ready themselves for work and adult life. Competencies range from academic, social, emotional to vocational, cultural.

3. Connectedness – Young people need to belong, to be connected to family and community to thrive. A growing body of brain research indicates that we are hardwired to connect, and this is essential to interacting with the world.

4. Engagement – Young people need opportunities to engage in meaningful activities, have a voice, take responsibility for their actions, and actively participate in civic discourse.

Amazing results could be seen from blending services, supports, and opportunities that already exist for youth. Current programs collaborating together and applying PYD research offers a more comprehensive framework to help youth build lasting resources and develop into a thriving adult.

Check out 4-H for a example of positive youth development in action.

Photo credit: PinkStock Photos

How Positive Psychology Enhances Youth Development

Joe Wilner

Joe Wilner is a life coach, licensed clinical psychotherapist (LCP), and drummer from the band Yes You Are. He is also creator of You Have a Calling, a blog and online community helping people discover and pursue their life’s work and mission. Through deep and personalized coaching, he helps ambitious, creative, and spiritually minded individuals make a greater impact, grow as leaders, and design a soulful life they are inspired by.

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APA Reference
Wilner, J. (2011). How Positive Psychology Enhances Youth Development. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Mar 2011
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