Positive youth development (PYD) is an evidence-based public health strategy for developing innate strengths in young people that support healthy behavioral development and successful transition to adulthood. The PYD approach focuses on helping youth acquire the knowledge and skills needed to become healthy and productive adults.
Conceptually, positive youth development is an approach utilized by organizations and communities to organize services, opportunities, and supports so that all youth can be engaged in the processes needed to reach their full potential. In practice, PYD strategies focus on incorporating youth input and engagement into programs, practices, and policies. By integrating youth voices into these processes, youth gain the skills and opportunities needed to successfully transition into healthy adulthood. Successful PYD strategies focus on utilizing youth as partners, being inclusive of all youth regardless of their health or socioeconomic status, and collaborating to create program and policy sustainability.
Implementation of positive youth development strategies can be challenging due to several barriers including organizational resistance, cultural resistance, logistical issues, and wary young people who might doubt that their input is valued, respected, and utilized. Program and policy efforts should consider these potential barriers during planning and implementation practices, and seek out resources providing practical tools and advice, such as those listed here.
The Evidence for PYD Strategies
Research indicates that positive youth development and youth engagement strategies have the potential to:
Increase feelings of youth connectedness with family, school, and community2
Decrease negative social and health choices such as tobacco use, alcohol use, and delinquent behavior2
Increase positive, supportive factors such as supportive relationships, positive social norms, and skills-building opportunities3
Youth Engagement State Examples
By an act of legislation, Minnesota youth now have an official voice in shaping legislation that affects young people. The Minnesota Youth Council Committee Bill passed in the state legislature on May 22nd, 2013. The bill officially establishes the statewide Minnesota Youth Council (MYC). This bill makes Minnesota one of fewer than a dozen states that have nationally formalized a relationship between policymakers and young future voters and citizens. Minnesota’s Youth Council now allows youth to provide official input to the state legislature, the state department of education, and the governor's office on a range of issues relevant to adolescents. Read more.
Youth Engagement in Practice
One AMCHP member –Colorado—has successfully integrated PYD into their programmatic work. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Prevention Services Division, the largest youth-serving division in the state, has adopted formal guidelines to create and sustain culturally effective practices to integrate young people into the work they do. All of the planning and development stages of this process were completed in direct partnership with youth.
Additionally, Colorado has successfully engaged Youth Advisors in substantive work of the department through the Colorado 9to25 program (CO9to25). Colorado 9to25 is a collective, action-oriented group of Colorado Youth and adults working in partnership to align efforts and achieve positive outcomes for all youth, ages 9-25, so they can reach their full potential. This program provides a forum for youth and adults to connect and share ideas about the best ways to ensure that all youth have the skills, opportunities, and supportive relationships needed to make safe and healthy choices. CO9to25 promotes learning opportunities through regional partnership meetings, trainings and other events. By utilizing a holistic, positive approach to youth development, Colorado successfully engages youth. Over the next 3-5 years, the Colorado 9to25 program hopes to: mobilize partnerships, raise public awareness, promote best and promising practices, share accountability, and promote policy and environmental change.
In Washington, DC, education agency counterparts at the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) oversee a Youth Advisory Council that engages youth in health-related outreach and programming.
In addition to their practical work, Colorado has produced tools and resources to facilitate the meaningful engagement of youth in state health programs. DC OSSE has shared The following practical tools and resources were presented by CO DPHE and DC OSSE at the 2013 AMCHP Annual Conference:
Pittman K. What’s health got to do with it? Health and youth development: connecting the dots. Forum Focus. 2005;3(2):1–4.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Adolescent and School Health; Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Office of Adolescent Health; National Adolescent Health Information Center, University of California, San Francisco. Improving the Health of Adolescents & Young Adults: A Guide for States and Communities. Atlanta, GA: 2004.
Leffert, N. Making the Case: Measuring the impact of Youth Development Programs, Minneapolis: Search Institute, 1996.