Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs. Fosters Clear and Positive Identity


Clear and positive identity is the internal organization of a coherent sense of self. The construct is associated with the theory of identity development emerging from studies of how children establish their identities across different social contexts, cultural groups, and genders. Identity is viewed as a "self-structure," an internal, self-constructed, dynamic organization of drives, abilities, beliefs, and individual history, which is shaped by the child's navigation of normal crises or challenges at each stage of development (Erikson, 1968). Erikson described overlapping yet distinct stages of psychosocial development that influence a child's sense of identity throughout life, but which are especially critical in the first 20 years. If the adolescent or young adult does not achieve a healthy identity, role confusion can result. Developmental theorists assert that successful identity achievement during adolescence depends on the child's successful resolution of earlier stages.

Identity formation is a complex process even under the best circumstances. (Douvan & Adelson, 1966; Offer & Offer, 1975; Waterman, 1985). Stages of identity development are linked to gender differences in pre-adolescence and adolescence, revealing a series of identity aspects for girls that are not parallel to those of boys (Gilligan, 1982). Investigations of the positive identity development of gay and bisexual youth have become a focus for some researchers (Johnston & Bell, 1995).

For youth of color, the development of positive identity and its role in healthy psychological functioning is closely linked with the development of ethnic identity (Mendelberg, 1986; Parham & Helms, 1985; Phinney, 1990, 1991; Phinney, Lochner & Murphy, 1990; Plummer, 1995), issues of bicultural identification (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997), and bicultural or cross-cultural competence (LaFromboise, Coleman & Gerton, 1993; LaFromboise & Rowe, 1983). Some have suggested that it is healthy for ethnic minority youth to be consciously socialized to understand the multiple demands and expectations of both the majority and minority culture (Spencer, 1990; Spencer & Markstrom-Adams, 1990). This process may offer psychological protection through providing a sense of identity that captures the strengths of the ethnic culture, and helps buffer experiences of racism and other risk factors (Hill et al., 1994). This may also enhance prosocial bonding to adults who can help youths to counter potential interpersonal violence in their peer groups (Hill et al., 1994; Wilson, 1990).

Several studies have suggested a positive relationship between ethnic identity and social adjustment (Grossman, Wirt & Davids, 1985; Paul & Fisher, 1980; Tzuriel & Klein, 1977). Ethnic identity achievement includes self-identification as a group member, a sense of belonging, and positive attitudes toward one's group (Phinney, 1990).

Operational Definition.  Programs were classified as fostering clear and positive identity if they sought to develop healthy identity formation and achievement in youth, including positive identification with a social or cultural sub-group that supports their healthy development of sense of self.