Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs. Conclusions

11/13/1998

This report addressed three challenges for the field of positive youth development:  defining key concepts, documenting evidence of program effectiveness, and better understanding the relationships between predictors of youth behavior and positive youth development outcomes. To address the first challenge, we identified and defined 15 "positive youth development constructs" that appear in the positive youth development literature in studies of child and youth development, psychology, and prevention science. To address the second, 25 programs were identified from 77 reviewed programs that demonstrated important youth outcomes at some point after the program was delivered. To address the third challenge, better understanding the relationships between predictors of youth behavior and positive youth development outcomes, we examined the social domains in which the programs conducted their strategies.

The study concluded that a wide range of positive youth development approaches can result in positive youth behavior outcomes and the prevention of youth problem behaviors. Nineteen effective programs showed positive changes in youth behavior, including significant improvements in interpersonal skills, quality of peer and adult relationships, self-control, problem solving, cognitive competencies, self-efficacy, commitment to schooling, and academic achievement. Twenty-four effective programs showed significant improvements in problem behaviors, including drug and alcohol use, school misbehavior, aggressive behavior, violence, truancy, high risk sexual behavior, and smoking. This is good news indeed. Promotion and prevention programs that address positive youth development constructs are definitely making a difference in well-evaluated studies.

Although a broad range of strategies produced these results, the themes common to success involved methods to:  strengthen social, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and moral competencies; build self-efficacy; shape messages from family and community about clear standards for youth behavior; increase healthy bonding with adults, peers and younger children; expand opportunities and recognition for youth; provide structure and consistency in program delivery; and intervene with youth for at least nine months or more. Although one third of the effective programs operated in only a single setting, it is important to note that for the other two thirds, combining the resources of the family, the community, and the community's schools were the other ingredients of success.