The Potential Of Youth Development Programs To Promote Positive Youth Development

Numerous scholars, practitioners, advocates for youth, and policy makers have studied and discussed effective youth programs (e.g., Benson, 1997; Blum, 2003; Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1995; Damon, 1997; Dryfoos, 1990, 1998; Lerner, 2004; Lerner & Galambos, 1998; Little, 1993; Pittman, 1996; Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003a, 2003b; Roth et al., 1998; Schorr, 1988, 1997; Villarruel et al., 2003; Wheeler, 2003). Although all contributors to this discussion may have their own ways of phrasing their conclusions, it is possible to provide an overview of the ideal features—the best practices—that should be integrated into effective positive youth development programs. It is clear that these features of best practice involve coordinated attention to the youth's characteristics of individuality and to the specifics of his or her social context.

Moreover it is also clear that community-based programs that seek only to prevent problems are not, in the main, successful in promoting the development of the clusters of behaviors associated with the Five Cs of PYD (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003a). Adoption of only a prevention orientation fails in promoting positive youth development because such an effort does not provide the program features—or more broadly the individual and contextual resources or, what Benson and his colleagues from Search Institute (Benson, 2003, Benson et al., 1998) term the "developmental assets"—fostering the thriving youth — civil society relation. What does assure, or at least increase the likelihood, of the provision of these developmental assets, of the engagement of youth with their communities, and of PYD?

Catalano et al. (1999) define positive youth development and the programs linked to its occurrence as involving attempts to promote characteristics associated with several of the Five Cs or with some of the ecological developmental assets specified by Search Institute (Benson, 1997, 2003). Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003a) also use the Five Cs as a frame for evaluating the effectiveness of programs aimed at promoting positive youth development.

For instance, programs promote positive youth development when they instill in youth attributes of competence such as self-efficacy, resilience, or social, cognitive, behavioral, and moral competence; attributes of confidence such as self-determination and a clear and positive identity; and attributes of social connection such as bonding; attributes of character such as spirituality and a belief in the future (Catalano et al., 1999). In addition, programs promote positive youth development when they enhance ecological assets related to empowerment such as recognition for a young person's positive behaviors, provide opportunities for prosocial involvement, and support prosocial norms or standards for healthy behavior (Catalano et al., 1999). In this regard, Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003a) compare programs that seek to promote the Five Cs—programs that are aimed at youth development—with programs that just have a youth focus but are not developmental in orientation and, in particular, are not aimed at the promotion of positive development. Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003a, p. 217) note that the former, youth development programs are "more successful in improving participants' competence, confidence, and connections."

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