You are here

How Youth Contribute to Healthy Communities: Finding and Building on Young People’s Strengths

Publication Number: P3504
View as PDF: P3504.pdf

Working with youth can be both challenging and rewarding. Often, programs and community efforts focus on young people’s challenging or risky behaviors. We forget that youth can be valuable assets to our communities. Youth have the potential to make a positive contribution to the community when they are given the support, guidance, and opportunities to use and strengthen their skills. People who work with youth need to learn to recognize their talents and assets and build on those qualities to improve outcomes for youth as well as the community. This publication can help you connect young people’s positive assets to programming methods, goals, and outcomes.

The Positive Youth Development Approach

Positive youth development is an approach that adults can use when working with adolescents to help create opportunities for healthy growth and development. It is different than other approaches to working with youth because it focuses on their positive qualities, or assets, rather than on how they might add risks to the community.

These assets can be either internal or external. Internal assets are qualities a young person has such as skills and ideas. External assets are more related to relationships and experiences. Mentors can foster both types of assets to help youth make positive contributions to their communities and show the community their potential to be beneficial and successful. The more assets a young person has, the more likely he or she is to have positive outcomes and fewer risky behaviors.

Developmental Assets of Youth

External

Internal

Support: positive communication and care from family, school, or neighbors

Empowerment: given useful roles and feelings of safety

Boundaries and expectations: clear rules and consequences; positive behaviors are modeled

Constructive use of time: involvement in structured activities like sports, arts, or religious activities

Commitment to learning: motivation and caring about doing well; reading and doing homework

Positive values: showing honesty and responsibility; caring for others

Social competences: good friendship and decision-making skills; comfortable with different people

Positive identity: high self-esteem and positive feelings about the future

Positive Youth Development Environment

To help youth learn to use their assets to play a positive role in the community, programs should focus on building the “five Cs” of positive youth development:

  1. competence
  2. confidence
  3. character
  4. connection
  5. caring

Competence

  • Model decision-making skills, such as listing pros and cons and thinking about consequences.
  • Give youth opportunities to practice making daily choices such as deciding what to eat or planning constructive activities for the day.

Confidence

  • Let youth teach a skill or talk about something important to them in front of others.
  • Empower youth by verbally recognizing things they do well, whether they are leading a group activity or using good communication with others.

Character

  • Allow youth to practice responsibility by designating leadership roles for group projects.
  • Guide youth in recognizing how their actions have helped someone else or how they can help find a solution to a problem.

Connection

  • Create group activities where youth have to work together or with a mentor to complete a task, learning from each other’s ideas.
  • Use volunteering projects to help youth interact with others who are different from themselves.

Caring

  • Promote positive values by creating opportunities for youth to practice empathy and caring through role-playing or volunteer opportunities.
  • Teach youth to practice self-care and set healthy boundaries for themselves and others. For example, guide them in practicing telling someone how they feel or that something is bothering them.

Outcomes

Expanding young people’s skills and building their confidence and competence can lead to higher GPAs, less aggression and violence, higher life satisfaction, better mental health, and fewer risky behaviors. When young people pair their assets with supportive resources and opportunities to interact with others, they make positive contributions to their communities. Youth can connect with diverse groups of people in their communities through volunteering and outreach. This gives them a better understanding of how a community is made up of people with different beliefs and needs.

As youth use their assets in productive ways to interact with others, they grow in their ability to recognize ways they can contribute to their environment and make a difference. Youth who have confidence in their abilities and know how to turn their ideas into plans can become productive leaders who initiate action to solve problems in their communities. Ultimately, programs with a positive youth development approach build the five Cs of competence, confidence, character, connection, and caring, which can lead to a sixth C—contribution to self, family, community, and institutions of civil society.

Resources

youth.gov

https://youth.gov/youth-topics/positive-youth-development

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Family and Youth Services Bureau

https://www.acf.hhs.gov/fysb/positive-youth-development

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs

https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/positive-youth-development/index.html

References

Benson, P. L. (1990). The troubled journey: A portrait of 6th-12th grade youth. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.

Benson, P. L., & Scales, P. C. (2009). Positive youth development and the prevention of youth aggression and violence. European Journal of Developmental Science, 3(3), 218–234.

Benson, P. L., Scales, P. C., & Syvertsen, A. K. (2011). The contribution of the developmental assets framework to positive youth development theory and practice. In R. M. Lerner, J. V. Learner, & J. B. Benson (Eds.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 41, pp. 197–230). London, UK: Elsevier.

Family and Youth Services Bureau. (2012). What is positive youth development? Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/fysb/whatispyd20120829.pdf

Jain, S., Buka, S. L., Subramanian, S. V., & Molnar, B. E. (2012). Protective factors for youth exposed to violence: Role of developmental assets in building emotional resilience. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 10(1), 107–129.

Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. V., & Benson, J. B. (2011). Positive youth development: Research and applications for promoting thriving in adolescence. In R. M. Lerner, J. V. Lerner, & J. B. Benson (Eds.), Advances in child development and behavior (Vol. 41, pp. 1–13). London, UK: Elsevier.

Soares, A. S., Pais-Ribeiro, J. L., & Silva, I. (2019). Developmental assets predictors of life satisfaction in adolescents. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.


Publication 3504 (POD-08-20)

By Kayla Wenth, Doctoral Candidate, Human Development and Family Sciences; and Donna J. Peterson, PhD, Associate Extension Professor, Human Sciences.

Copyright 2020 by Mississippi State University. All rights reserved. This publication may be copied and distributed without alteration for nonprofit educational purposes provided that credit is given to the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Produced by Agricultural Communications.

Mississippi State University is an equal opportunity institution. Discrimination in university employment, programs, or activities based on race, color, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, or any other status protected by applicable law is prohibited. Questions about equal opportunity programs or compliance should be directed to the Office of Compliance and Integrity, 56 Morgan Avenue, P.O. 6044, Mississippi State, MS 39762, (662) 325-5839.

Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. GARY B. JACKSON, Director

The Mississippi State University Extension Service is working to ensure all web content is accessible to all users. If you need assistance accessing any of our content, please email the webteam or call 662-325-2262.

Select Your County Office

Authors

Portrait of Dr. Donna Jean Peterson
Associate Extension Professor

Your Extension Experts

Portrait of Dr. Paula Threadgill
Assc Dir, FCS & 4H & Ext Prof
Associate Director FCS/4H

Related Publications