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  2. Key Principles of Positive Youth Development

Key Principles of Positive Youth Development

Positive Youth Development (PYD) exists in dynamic environments that build upon the strengths of and recognize risk behaviors in adolescents. These environments include systems of support, such as peer or social networks, school, family, and community. The contexts are all a part of an ecological framework that PYD programs incorporate into their programming and that adolescents continually interact with.

When connecting youth to positive experiences, programs should include the following principles:

  • PYD is an intentional process. It is about being proactive to promote protective factors in young people.
  • PYD complements efforts to prevent risky behaviors and attitudes in youth and supports efforts that work to address negative behaviors.
  • PYD acknowledges and further develops (or strengthens) youth assets. All youth have the capacity for positive growth and development.
  • PYD enables youth to thrive and flourish and prepares them for a healthy, happy, and safe adulthood.
  • PYD involves youth as active agents. Youth are valued and encouraged to participate in design, delivery, and evaluation of the services. Adults and youth work in partnership.
  • PYD instills leadership qualities in youth, but youth are not required to lead. Youth can attend, actively participate, contribute, and/or lead through PYD activities.
  • PYD involves civic involvement and civic engagement; youth contribute to their schools and broader communities through service.
  • PYD involves and engages every element of the community — schools, homes, community members, and others. Young people, family members, and community partners are valued through this process. PYD is an investment that the community makes in young people. Youth and adults work together to frame the solutions. Learn more about engaging youth as active participants and partners.


America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2016
This report from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics includes indicators in seven domains, including family and social environment; economic circumstances; health care; physical environment and safety; education; and health. Indicators of youth health include engagement in tobacco, alcohol, and drug use; behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence; and inadequate physical activity.

America’s Young Adults: Special Issue, 2014 (PDF, 100 pages)
This report from the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics provides data on young adults ages 18-24, focusing on their demographic characteristics, living situations, and overall wellbeing. The data come from several nationally representative, federally sponsored surveys.

National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth
The National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth (NCFY) is a free information service for communities, organizations, and individuals interested in developing new and effective strategies for supporting young people and their families. NCFY was established by the Family and Youth Services Bureau (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to link individuals and groups interested in youth issues with the resources they need to better serve young people, families, and communities. NCFY’s searchable publications database contains a wealth of information about PYD.

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).