What is positive youth development? Sounds like a fancy term for working with kids, right? Well, kind of…
Although positive youth development (PYD) has been the backbone of my work for many years, I find that it is a term unknown to most. I first encountered this specific phrase when working at the American Youth Foundation, Camp Miniwanca, as a Community and School Program Staff. Essentially, the camp promoted PYD through what they coined “4-fold living.” That is, you can strive for balance in your life by fulfilling four areas: Mental, Physical, Social, and Spiritual. That, coupled with their motto of “being my own self, at my very best, all the time” captured the essence of PYD, in my opinion. Youth.gov puts it even more simply:
Positive Experiences + Positive Relationships + Positive Environments = Positive Youth Development
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this concept is that it is so incredibly intentional. As someone who has worked in the outdoors with youth for many years, I often got the comment ‘oh so you just play outside with kids everyday?’ coupled with a bewildered and somewhat degrading facial expression. If only that person knew… not only does it take great patience to work with a rambunctious group of middle school students who are estactic to be out of the classroom and on a field trip, and are now running wild at camp, but it takes strategy and deliberate planning. Now, let’s look at the official definition as provided by youth.gov:
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 youths' 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.
An outsider looking in, may see a group of youth playing a game or taking a hike in the woods. But any good group facilitator knows that this is an opportune moment to let natural leaders emerge from the group while also giving voice to the quiet ones. It is striking a balance and cooperation between a set of unique individuals and coyly letting them know that each person’s strengths are different, and that is okay! It’s knowing when to take a step back and let the group develop on their own. It’s knowing that “storming” is okay (more on forming, storming, norming later).
I feel that any youth development professional should be familiar with the concept of positive youth development. I have to believe that anyone who wants what’s best for our future generations would be able to get behind this concept. And really, it starts with just one person: One person who is willing to cultivate a positive relationship, who can facilitate a positive experience, and who can create a positive environment. Will that person be you???
This blog contains anything and everything nonprofit, grants, youth development, outdoor education, and more. Really, this is just an informal way to chat more about what I love! Enjoy :)