What is positive youth development?

A quick overview of the positive youth development approach to help you enhance experiences for youth.

4-H provides youth with a positive youth development experience, but do you really know what it means to use a positive youth development focus? This article will provide a quick overview of the positive youth development approach to help you enhance experiences for youth.

Positive youth development is defined as the ongoing process of building young people’s assets and strengths through social, emotional, cognitive, physical and moral development. Volunteers who have knowledge and understanding of positive youth development are more likely to help youth develop the skills that will allow them to thrive.

First and foremost, volunteers must understand the Five C’s of Positive Youth Development. Michigan State University Extension’s “Ready to Go: Mentor Toolkit” has an activity called “Unbreakable” that helps volunteers and mentors look at the Five C’s and what one can do to help youth grow these skills. During this activity, volunteers use large craft sticks to visualize the Five C’s of competence, confidence, connection, character and caring/compassion. Through this visual activity, volunteers see that when helping build these skills with youth, it makes youth stronger and less likely to break.

Next, it is important to understand the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets. These are 40 skills that are seen as an important piece in having youth grow up to be healthy, caring and responsible. Volunteers can play an extremely important role in helping youth develop the 40 Developmental Assets. For example, volunteers are adult role models that youth need. As adult role models, one can help model responsible and positive behaviors to youth.

Another asset volunteers can really help youth grow is planning and decision making. When working with youth, volunteers should allow youth to take an active role in deciding what the group will do and then allow youth the opportunity to plan the activity so they can learn the skills and steps needed for planning.

Volunteers play an extremely important role in helping youth develop, and the skills youth need to develop do not happen overnight. However, they must be fostered in caring relationships, and 4-H volunteers can help youth learn the skills through some careful thought in how they interact with youth.

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