Youth development can be defined as “a process by which youth develop the personal, social, academic, and citizenship competencies necessary for adolescence and adult life based on their capacities, strengths, and formative needs.”
From the Advancing Youth Development curriculum, Academy for Educational Development/Center for Youth Development and Policy Research.
Youth development is both a philosophy and an approach. As a philosophy, it emphasizes the importance of young people’s personal development and their contributions to their communities. The youth development approach is an effective method for supporting young people and achieving desired outcomes. This approach can be integrated into any kind of service or program for youth.
- Youth development differs from traditional youth service programs because it is an approach that:
- Engages youth as resources, not simply recipients of services
- Focuses on strengthening youth, not attempting to “fix” them
- Recognizes that preventing problems does not by itself promote development
- Ensures that youth are included as a part of planning and decision-making processes
Core principles of the youth development approach include a focus on positive youth outcomes, balancing services, opportunities and supports and ensuring youth participation—real decision making power.
As a youth-centered approach, youth development emphasizes the importance of positive youth outcomes that focus on young people as individuals, as well as, program outcomes. Positive youth outcomes are the knowledge areas, skills, and attributes young people need to be healthy, caring, and responsible adolescents and young adults. There are three types of positive youth outcomes:
Developmental outcomes, such as,
- becoming employable or
- building intellectual ability
Achievement outcomes, such as,
- graduation from high school or
- getting a job
Problem-free/Prevention outcomes, such as,
- being alcohol and drug-free or
- not engaging in violent behavior
Program outcomes, by contrast, focus on the impact of a program on a larger population, such as decreasing alcohol use in the broader community or establishing a youth center in a town. Youth development aims to integrate program outcomes with positive youth outcomes with a particular emphasis on developmental outcomes. For example, youth peer leaders can develop their own intellectual and social skills (developmental outcomes) while working to reduce youth tobacco use in their community (a program outcome).
Another key element of the youth development approach is youth participation, which is:
- A process in which youth actively participate in decision making
- The empowerment of youth to take responsibility for creating positive change in their lives and in their communities
There are many ways of involving youth in decision making and program planning, such as, creating opportunities for them to manage field trips, lead workshops, plan budgets, or implement programs.
Youth development supports the power of young people.