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


The ways in which interventions addressed "positive youth development constructs" was a primary focus of the analysis. As noted elsewhere in the report, programs did not need to measure these constructs in order to meet the criteria for this review. Had measurement of positive youth development constructs been a criterion, there would have been very few programs to review. Ideally, the program should address these constructs in the intervention, and the evaluation should measure the impact of the intervention on these constructs. Measurement of youth development constructs is one of the most powerful ways to advance the field because of the information it provides on the relationships between the intervention, mediating variables such as positive youth development constructs, and youth outcomes.

Overall Representation of Constructs Across Programs

All of the effective programs in this review addressed a minimum of five positive youth constructs. Most interventions addressed at least eight constructs, and three-domain programs averaged 10 constructs. Three constructs were addressed in all 25 well evaluated programs:  competence, self-efficacy, and prosocial norms.

The profile was similar in the excluded programs, with all programs addressing competencies of one or more types. Both self efficacy and prosocial norms had lower averages than the well evaluated programs, but each was still represented in approximately three fourths of those interventions.


Competence was defined as a child's capacity for acquiring developmentally appropriate skills across social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and moral dimensions. All 25 (100%) of the effective, well-evaluated programs addressed one or more of these forms of youth competence. In fact, 100% of the effective programs met the criteria for promoting children's competencies on social, cognitive, and behavioral dimensions. Twenty-two programs (88%) met the criteria for promoting emotional competencies, and eight (32%) met the criteria for promoting moral competence. In those cases in which an evaluation measured a positive youth development construct, that construct was most likely to be a form of competence.


Self-efficacy was defined as youth's perception that one can achieve desired goals through one's own action. Twenty-five (100%) of the effective, well-evaluated programs addressed self-efficacy. During the analysis, significant overlap was noted between those programs meeting the criteria for competence and those for self-efficacy. Typically, most program strategies that promoted a youth's capacity to learn, acquire and master new skills also addressed perceptions of self-efficacy. When an evaluation measured self-efficacy, two things could be noted. First, self-efficacy was typically generated from a self-report index, and self-efficacy was almost always grouped with measures of attitudes or beliefs, rather than designated a behavioral measure.

Prosocial Norms

Prosocial norms are defined as healthy standards and clear beliefs. Programs typically addressed these through delivering messages about healthy expectations from peers or adults, or by stressing the importance of knowing how to respond appropriately to negative peer influences. The positive youth development construct of promoting prosocial norms in youth was tied with competence and self-efficacy for the highest representation among all interventions:  25 (100%) of the effective, well-evaluated programs addressed prosocial norms.

Opportunities for Prosocial Involvement

Opportunities for prosocial involvement were defined as events or activities in the intervention that encourage youth in prosocial actions. These programs created, or linked children to, opportunities for positive involvement. The positive youth development construct of promoting children's opportunities for prosocial involvement had the second highest representation among all interventions. Twenty-two (88%) of the effective, well-evaluated programs created and used these opportunities for youth to practice and develop new behaviors and forms of contact with others, including family members, peers, teachers, and other adults.

Among the excluded programs, opportunities for prosocial involvement were less frequently noted, with about half those programs (19, or 49%) receiving that designation.

Recognition for Positive Behavior

This construct was defined as reinforcement or acknowledgement for positive behavior. It tied with opportunities for prosocial involvement as having the second highest representation across programs, with 22 (88%) using some framework for providing acknowledgment, rewards or reinforcement to youth. Most often this recognition was provided in connection with learning a developmentally appropriate skill, task, or challenge, or for supporting appropriate behavioral changes.

Among excluded programs, the recognition construct appeared in fewer than half the programs, at 41% (16).


Bonding was defined as a youth's social attachment and commitment to others, including family, peers, school, community, and the culture(s). Bonding had the third highest representation of constructs, present in 19 (76%) programs. A program with a typical bonding component often structured or encouraged direct contact with prosocial adults and peers. Programs also promoted bonding when they sought to strengthen healthy relationships between youth and the people delivering intervention services.

Among excluded programs, bonding was represented in slightly more than half the programs (13, or 55%).

Positive Identity, Self-Determination, Belief in the Future, Resiliency, and Spirituality

Five positive youth development constructs were represented in significantly fewer than 50% of programs. In two cases, belief in the future and spirituality, most programs simply did not address these principles. Spirituality and belief in the future were each addressed in only two (8%) programs. Among the other three constructs, resiliency was the most represented, with 12 programs (48%) identified as addressing the construct. In most instances in which the resiliency construct was identified, it was referred to in the text of the evaluation, often in the theory section. It was generally far less clear how the construct was integrated with the rest of the evaluation or program. Both positive identity and self-determination were rarely identified as constructs by program evaluators. However, nine (36%) programs met the criteria for addressing positive identity in some way. Only four (16%) programs met the criteria to define self-determination.

Similar findings occurred for the excluded programs. There were eight (21%) programs that addressed self-determination. However, more of the excluded programs addressed belief in the future (11, or 28%). Ten (25%) programs addressed youth resiliency, and only one of the excluded programs addressed spirituality.