Positive Youth Development in the United States: Research Findings on Evaluations of Positive Youth Development Programs. Summary of Positive Youth Development Programs Set in Schools


The analysis of single-domain school-based interventions identified six programs that were well evaluated and showed significant effects on youth behavior.  These positive youth development programs set in schools can be generally divided into two types: health promotion-focused interventions, and competence promotion-focused interventions.  This analysis identified three health promotion and three competence promotion programs in which positive youth development constructs and strategies were successfully incorporated and changed behavioral outcomes for children.  In all six programs, the primary emphasis of the intervention was on children's acquisition of skill-based learning to produce the desired behavioral changes.  Strategies in these programs relied on opportunities for children to absorb new information and knowledge, and practice specific skills (e.g., coping, decision-making, self-management, frustration tolerance, impulse control, refusal/resistance, life skills, and academic mastery).

Five of the six programs (Growing Healthy, Know Your Body, Life Skills Training, The PATHS Project, and Project ALERT) were multi-year interventions; the exception was a relatively short-term intervention (Children of Divorce) that used developmentally-focused strategies to promote mental health protective factors in a specific at-risk population (children of divorced parents).  These programs all used a strong research design, with five of the six employing an experimental design and random assignment of children to intervention and control groups.  In all three evaluations of the school-based competence promotion programs, long-term follow-up was designed into the evaluation framework, although only two of the three demonstrated continued effects at follow-up (PATHS and Life Skills Training).  Although the health promotion program evaluations did not include follow-up, two of the three (Growing Healthy and Know Your Body) were multi-year trials that provided sustained intervention exposure and measurement periods.

All programs produced evidence of significant changes in children's positive or problem behavior.  Among the improvements in positive youth outcomes that resulted from these interventions were better personal health management attitudes and knowledge (Growing Healthy), practices (Know Your Body, Growing Healthy); greater assertiveness, sociability, problem-solving, and frustration tolerance (Children of Divorce); increased acceptance of prosocial norms having to do with substance use (Life Skills Training and Project ALERT); increased interpersonal skills and decision making (Life Skills Training); and a higher capacity for managing one's reactions and behavior in social and emotional situations, greater self-efficacy with creating new solutions to problems, and increased empathy (PATHS).  These interventions also had a significant impact on the reduction or prevention of problem behaviors in children.  One of the greatest areas of impact for several programs involved successfully changing knowledge, attitudes and/or behavioral practices around cigarette smoking (Know Your Body, Growing Healthy, Life Skills Training and Project ALERT).  Two single domain programs also improved youth attitudes and practices around substance use and abuse (Life Skills Training and Project ALERT).  Other favorable changes in youth problem behaviors included changes in aggressive and conflict behavior (PATHS).