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  1. Youth Topics
  2. How Culture, Diversity, and Prior Experiences Can Influence Positive Youth Development

How Culture, Diversity, and Prior Experiences Can Influence Positive Youth Development

Youth in the United States represent many different backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles. The issues faced by these youth are also diverse. PYD can assist and benefit the youth service providers and public health programming by identifying diverse circumstances to better understand the needs of youth. Examples of these issues include the following:

Different Types of Transitions During Adolescence:

  • Youth transitions can include: transitioning from elementary or middle to high school environments, student to employee, foster youth to adult of legal age, resident of juvenile justice facility to reintegrated youth/adult, stable family routine to disrupted living arrangements, and dependence on guardian income to taking on more financial responsibility.1

Specific Population Challenges:

  • Issues that LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience than heterosexual youth, such as stigma, discrimination, family disapproval, and violence, can place them at a higher risk for behavioral health challenges and complications (e.g., suicidal ideation and substance use).
  • Youth with disabilities may face additional challenges while attending school and gaining employment. You can learn more about youth with disabilities here.
  • Immigrant and refugee youth are more likely to experience stress due to societal exclusion, poverty, trauma, and separation from family.2
  • Exposure to violence and trauma while experiencing a transition can have a cumulative effect on increasing physical and mental health risks for youth.3

PYD enhances the sense of belonging, creating, and strengthening relationships with peers, friends, and identification of one's culture within a community. Increased resiliency and risk reduction can be fostered by utilizing PYD principles and practices with youth and communities of different ethnicities, races, cultures, specific needs with respect to behavior and learning, and sexual orientation. Examples of positive youth development principles in research and programming for multicultural youth include:

  • Within cultures of the United States, Native American youth with a high sense of cultural identity and self-esteem displayed lower levels of alcohol and drug use.4
  • The use of traditional American Indian/Alaska Native values through activities, such as storytelling, have shown success in decreasing substance abuse among these youth.5
  • Vietnamese-American youth exhibited a greater connection to their culture and community when they participated in a youth development program that enhanced their interpersonal skills and self-confidence.6
  • An intervention primarily targeting youth of color (specifically African American, Asian, and Latino) found that youth engagement in safe sexual practices increased after two months of receiving preventative messages via Facebook.7
  • Similarly, an intervention for African-American adolescent girls at high risk for sexually transmitted diseases included information about ethnic and gender pride, HIV knowledge, communication, condom use skills, and healthy relationships. The girls who received 16 hours of training were more consistent in their use of safe sex practices at the 6- and 12-month assessments.8

From an international perspective, similar studies confirm the effectiveness of PYD practices.

  • Youth in Panama, Costa Rica, and Guatemala who had PYD experiences, such as relationships with peers, teachers, and their families, were better able to make decisions regarding drugs and substance abuse than those with fewer positive experiences and relationships.9
  • When agencies and youth development professionals in Hong Kong provided high-risk youth life-skill training aimed at personal competency, belonging, and optimism, the youth reported having positive behavior changes. These changes included controlling anger, resolving conflict, learning more effective communication with adults, solving problems, and developing stronger value for teamwork. The key was that youth were encouraged to make contributions to their communities through service-learning activities, and parents and teachers were empowered to serve in supportive roles.10
  • Children with cerebral palsy in Bangladesh were able to improve their adaptive skills when their caregivers received a parent training program. The adaptive skills were measured in communication, socialization, motor skills, and daily living.11

Positive experiences, positive relationships, and positive environments—regardless of culture or ethnicity—can contribute to PYD.


Improving Education and Employment for Disadvantaged Young Men: Proven and Promising Strategies
This report reviews programs and policies’ evidence base on topics such as youth development, programs developed to improve educational attainment and employment for in-school youth, and programs that try to reconnect youth that are out of school and often unemployed.

Growing Up in a New Country: A Positive Youth Development Toolkit for Working with Refugees and Immigrants
This toolkit supports service providers in their efforts to develop quality programming that is culturally competent and effective for the refugee and immigrant youth in their communities.

A Native Pathway to Adulthood: Training for Tribal and Non-Tribal Child Welfare Workers
This competency-based curriculum enhances the skills of tribal and state workers in facilitating the transition of older Native American youth from out-of-home care to adulthood. The curriculum also encourages collaboration between tribes and public agencies to ensure that culturally relevant transition services are provided. The manual introduces the unique life path of tribal youth, provides information to enhance current intervention skills, and adds to the knowledge base of accessible local and national resources.

Positive Youth Justice: Framing Justice Interventions Using the Concepts of Positive Youth Development
This report can help develop a data-driven system and can act as a guide to answering such questions as: How many youth are homeless? Which housing or service interventions are most effective at ending homelessness for youth of diverse needs and contexts? Are we reducing the number of homeless youth and the length of time they are homeless?

A Training Curriculum for Youth Trainers: Strategies for Supporting Transition Aged Youth (PDF, 167 pages)
This training curriculum from the Y.O.U.T.H. (Youth Offering Unique Tangible Help) Training Project was developed for training child welfare workers and empowering foster youth. Former foster youth developed the curriculum, which includes training for specific competencies; samples of training-day curricula; training activities; and tips, resources, and surveys for foster and LGBTQ youth.


1 World Development Report, 2007; Yudin, 2013; Walters, et al. 2011
2 Rhodes, 2005
3 Boynton-Jarrett, Hair, & Zuckerman, 2013
4 Zimmerman & Arunkumar, 19947
5 Moran & Reaman, 2002; NREPP, 2007
6 McConachie, Huq, Munir, Ferdous, Zaman, & Khan, 2000
7 Kegler, Young, Marshall, Bu, & Rodine, 2005
8 Bull, Levine, Black, Schmiege, & Santelli, 2012
9 DiClemente et al., 2004
10 Kliewer & Murrelle, 2007
11 Wong & Lee, 2005

Other Resources on this Topic


Feature Articles

Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).