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What is Positive Youth Development?

The Definition

Positive Experiences + Positive Relationships + Positive Environments = Positive Youth Development

The federal government’s Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs developed the following definition of positive youth development for use by federal programs:

Positive youth development is an intentional, pro-social approach that engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes, and enhances young people’s strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.

Beyond the Formal Definition

Taking a positive youth development (PYD) perspective means viewing the adolescent years as full of potential rather than rife with problems to be solved. Instead of merely encouraging adolescents to avoid risky behaviors, PYD emphasizes strategies that enhance positive qualities that adolescents already possess. The approach views adolescents as having a lot to offer and promotes the idea that adults can make a significant and positive difference in young peoples’ lives.

A panel of positive youth development experts speaking on an OAH webcast emphasized that PYD is a set of principles that can be applied to any setting or program where young people spend time to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes.They also explained that using this approach provides young people with opportunities to build core skills that can support positive development across all areas of their lives. In fact, youth programs that implement a PYD approach have been found to positively impact academic achievement, family relationships, mental health, and physical health.2


1 Moore, K. A. (2017). Commentary: Positive youth development goes mainstream. Child Development, 88(4), 1175-1177.
2 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.
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on May 13, 2019