• Text Resize A A A
  • Print Print
  • Share Share Share Share

The Connection to Adolescent Health

There is growing evidence that incorporating positive youth development principles in youth-serving programs can have positive effects across multiple dimensions of young people’s lives, including their physical and mental health, relationships, and academics. Collectively, the available evidence illustrates the broad impact that positive youth development (PYD) can have on adolescent outcomes and across several categories, including:

Relationships with Adults and Academic Achievement

Positive youth development promotes building positive relationships with adults in and out of school. Having positive relationships with adults (including parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, and mentors) is linked to school attendance and pursuit of higher education, as well as having more positive attitudes toward school, the future, and helping behaviors.1 In turn, research has found that academic achievement is a primary predictor and determinant of adult health.2

Evidence from PYD approaches has indicated improvements in commitment to schooling and academic achievement. Other research on the influence of school environment on health has found that positive relationships with teachers can help promote student well-being and limit risk behaviors. Conversely, students who are unhappy at school may leave or engage in other risky behaviors.3

Reproductive Health

Two studies reviewed health outcomes from multiple programs that use a positive youth development approach. One study identified 30 programs that served children and adolescents under age 20,4 and another study identified 12 programs that served young adolescents (ages 10-14) who are minorities.5 The reviews found that several of these programs had positive outcomes on reproductive health, including: delayed initiation of sexual intercourse, decreased frequency and recent sex, increased use of birth control or condoms, decreased number of sexual partners, fewer pregnancies or births, increased reports of abstinence, more positive attitudes toward abstinence, and fewer reported sexually transmitted infections. 

Other Health Effects 

PYD approaches also provide other health benefits. Some programs showed positive outcomes in mental health, reduced substance use and anti-social behaviors, academic achievement, skill building, problem solving, communication, family relationships, and healthy diet.6,7,8 Other positive changes observed in youth who attended programs that adapted PYD approaches include: improvements in interpersonal skills, quality of peer and adult relationships, self-control, cognitive competencies, self-efficacy, and community engagement.9,10,11 In addition, youth who participated in these programs decreased their problematic behaviors such as skipping school, aggressive behavior, bullying, and violence.12

Positive Youth Development and Underserved Populations

While a positive youth development approach can be beneficial for all youth, it can be particularly effective when working with vulnerable and underserved youth. There is evidence that a focus on PYD, including social skills, may foster resilience and improve well-being among youth who may have been maltreated.13 Focus on developing an identity, discovering strengths, and setting goals also has been demonstrated to be effective for youth who are part of racial/ethnic minority groups.14 Furthermore, a recent commentary by leaders in the field of positive youth development illustrates the expanded role PYD can play in increasing equity among diverse populations.15



Footnotes


1 Jekielek, S.M., Moore, K.A., Hair, E.C., & Scarupa, H.J. (2002). Mentoring: A promising strategy for youth development. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2002/02/MentoringRB.pdf.
2 Srabstein J., Piazza T. (2008) Public health, safety and educational risks associated with bullying behaviors in American adolescents. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 20(2), 223–233.
3 Jamal, F., Fletcher, A., Harden, A., Wells, H., Thomas, J., & Bonell, C. (2013). The school environment and student health: A systematic review and meta-ethnography of qualitative research. BioMed Central Public Health, 13(1), 798. Retrieved from http://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-798.
4 Gavin, L. E., Catalano, R. F., David-Ferdon, C., Gloppen, K. M., & Markham, C. M. (2010). A review of positive youth development programs that promote adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(3), S75-S91. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20172462
5 Harris, L. W., & Cheney, M. K. (2018). Positive youth development interventions impacting the sexual health of young minority adolescents: A systematic review. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 38(1), 74-117.
6 Gavin, L. E., Catalano, R. F., David-Ferdon, C., Gloppen, K. M., & Markham, C. M. (2010). A review of positive youth development programs that promote adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(3), S75-S91. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20172462.
7 Harris, L. W., & Cheney, M. K. (2018). Positive youth development interventions impacting the sexual health of young minority adolescents: A systematic review. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 38(1), 74-117.
8 Catalano, R.F. (2015). History of positive youth development programs and outcomes in the United States [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1865/Catalano_PYD_Youth_Power_Learning.pdf
9 Lerner, M. R., Lerner, V. L. (2009). Waves of the future 2009: Report of the findings from the first six years of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development Tufts University. Boston: MA. Retrieved March 18, 2016 from http://ase.tufts.edu/iaryd/documents/4HpositiveYouthDevStudyWave6.pdf
10 Lerner, M. R., & Lerner, V. L. (2013). The positive development of youth: Comprehensive findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. Retrieved from https://4-h.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/4-H-Study-of-Positive-Youth-Development-Wave-9-Report.pdf
11 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
12 Catalano, R.F., Berglund, M.L., Ryan, J.A., Lonczak, H.S., & Hawkins, J.D. (2004). Positive youth development in the United States: Research findings on evaluations of positive youth development programs. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591(1), 98-124. Retrieved from http://ann.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/591/1/98
13 Oshri, A., Topple, T. A., & Carlson, M. W. (2017). Positive youth development and resilience: growth patterns of social skills among youth investigated for maltreatment. Child Development, 88(4), 1087-1099.
14 Eichas, K., Montgomery, M. J., Meca, A., & Kurtines, W. M. (2017). Empowering marginalized youth: A self‐transformative intervention for promoting positive youth development. Child Development, 88(4), 1115-1124.
15 Pittman, K. J. (2017). Positive youth development as a strategy for addressing readiness and equity: A commentary. Child Development, 88(4), 1172-1174.
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on January 7, 2019