Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Youth Development 2.0

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Not that many years ago, we defined young people as “problems about to happen”. These problems included juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, gang membership, school failure, and on. Youth programs presented themselves as able to prevent these problems and program providers chased funders that were structured around these categories. Research focused on “risk factors” - family and environmental factors that could predict future youth problems. 

Then, for those of us at the ground level, we noticed two important things: 1) We found that most of the kids that had these risk factors were not showing problems; and 2) Regardless of the categorical funding focused on preventing problems, we tended to attract the same kids and successful programming was based on providing safe environments, forming positive relationships, and offering activities that were meaningful to young people. We moved away from deficits and began seeing young people as assets. Soon, the focus was positive youth development instead of prevention, thanks to the pioneering work of people like Michele Cahill, Karen Pittman, James Connell, Sylvia Yee, Carla Sanger, Sue Eldredge, and others. 

Photo Credit: CNYD Youth Development Guide

In 2001, the Community Network for Youth Development, in partnership with the California Department of Education, published the Youth Development Guide: Engaging Young People in After-School Programming. This guide offers strategies for designing youth programs around the issues of promoting a sense of safety, encouraging relationship building, fostering meaningful youth participation, providing opportunities for community involvement, and creating learning experiences that build skills. You can download it here or view it in a magazine-style format by clicking here

Despite the fact that this was published 15 years ago, the framework is heavily aligned to today’s California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs. What was revolutionary about the youth development framework (created by James Connell and Michelle Gambone) was that it promoted shared responsibility of not just the youth worker, but the provider organization, as well as funders and policy makers.

In recent years, we have been introduced to new research and new terms - many of which are products of a positive youth development setting. They include growth mindsets, non-cognitive skills, social emotional learning, soft skills, 21st century competencies, grit, character building, pro-social behavior, and more. 

Many say that the new research and terms are an extension of positive youth development. We can call them Youth Development 2.0. 

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