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Putting Positive Youth Development into Action

Eight Key Practices

There are eight key practices for effectively incorporating positive youth development (PYD) in youth-serving programs. Program providers are already doing important work in many of these areas, but there is always room to improve and include more PYD elements. The descriptions below contain examples from a full checklist of what programs can do to implement the eight key practices.1

  1. Physical and psychological safety: A program provides safe facilities and encourages health-promoting practices that increase safe peer group interaction and decrease unsafe or confrontational peer interactions. Potential actions include:
    • Train staff on privacy and confidentiality laws in your state, ensuring that information and feelings adolescents share are managed appropriately
    • Recognize and prevent bullying situations
    • Proactively resolve conflicts among adolescents
  2. Appropriate structure: A program provides clear and consistent rules and expectations, and age-appropriate monitoring. Potential activities include:
    • Provide reason or explanation for all requests and rules. For example: “In group discussions, one person speaks at a time so that we can all hear everything that is shared.”
    • Greet and welcome all adolescents warmly
    • Always provide a sufficient number of adults to oversee activities
  3. Supportive relationships: A program fosters caring relationships with adults and peers, social support, and positive communication, and provides supportive guidance. Potential activities include:
    • Provide opportunities for adolescents to interact positively with one another through structured and unstructured activities
    • Build on and enhance each adolescent's unique strengths (for example: artistic, mathematical, musical, interpersonal skills)
    • Be reliable and trustworthy
  4. Opportunities to belong: A program provides opportunities for meaningful inclusion of all youth, opportunities for positive identity formation, and support for cultural and bicultural competence. Potential activities include:
    • Be inclusive of adolescents from a variety of cultures and backgrounds
    • Provide opportunities and activities that encourage sharing and listening, such as icebreakers, scenarios to react to, or reflection time
    • Participate in training in cultural competence
  5. Positive social norms: A program encourages behaviors and values that promote respect (including clearly communicated expectations). Potential activities include:
    • Work with adolescents to help create “ground rules” that provide the foundation for activities
    • Model positive, respectful interactions and encourage adolescents to do the same
    • Teach adolescents to think critically about what influences their lives and decisions, such as peer pressure, the media, cultural norms, and gender norms
  6. Support for efficacy and mentoring (opportunities to make a difference): A program provides support for youth autonomy and leadership, and encourages youth to achieve meaningful change in their community. Potential activities include:
    • Create meaningful opportunities for leadership and initiative for adolescents
    • Engage adolescents in achieving their goals related to education and employment, or refer adolescents to other organizations that can help
    • Support staff – through training and supervision – to ensure they provide adolescents with leadership opportunities
  7. Opportunities for skill-building: A program provides opportunities for adolescents to learn physical, intellectual, psychological, emotional, and social skills that prepare them to make positive and informed decisions that affect their health, educational and career opportunities, and other aspects of their lives. Potential activities include:
    • Deliver content with interactive techniques (for example: role playing or practicing refusal skills)
    • Engage adolescents in determining their goals and in identifying how those goals can be achieved
    • Help adolescents identify milestones to celebrate as they move toward achieving their goals
  8. Integration of family, school, and community efforts: A program emphasizes coordination and collaboration with family, school, and community partners. Potential activities include:
    • Engage parents through family activities, newsletters, websites, or other program activities
    • Provide professional development opportunities for staff members to increase their abilities to engage with families, schools, and other community partners


1 National Academy of Sciences. (2004). Community programs to promote youth development. Retrieved from http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2004/Community-Programs-to-Promote-Youth-Development/FINALCommunityPrograms8Pager.pdf
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on May 13, 2019