Grand Futures: What is positive youth development? |

Grand Futures: What is positive youth development?

Sarah Valentino
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

If you’re a parent, teacher, coach or youth-serving professional, you might have heard of this buzzword-filled idea of Positive Youth Development, or PYD.

Though often used to describe the general hope for raising healthy youth in our community, PYD actually refers to a well-researched and structured concept within youth services.

PYD is an approach, not a program or training, that can be used to complement and enhance current models of care across the spectrum of prevention, intervention and treatment. Conceptually, principles of PYD can guide communities and organizations so that all youth can reach their full potential.

Positive Youth Development promotes five principles:

1. Strengths-based. Taking a holistic approach that focuses on the inherent strengths of an individual, family or community, and then building on them.

2. Inclusive. Addressing the needs of all youth by ensuring that the approach is culturally responsive. PYD encourages strategies that are accessible and consider the barriers to participation.

3. Engaging youth as partners. Ensuring the intentional, meaningful and sustained involvement of youth as equitable partners in the programs, practices and policies that seek to impact them. Rather than youth merely participating or being involved in activities, adults are encouraged to share leadership and decision making with the young people they serve.

4. Collaborative. Creating meaningful partnerships within and across sectors to effectively align our work. Organizations and schools should work together to create efficient support and share best practices.

5. Sustainable. Addressing the long-term planning through funding, training capacity building, professional development and evaluation in order to ensure ongoing support and engagement of youth.

More programs in northwest Colorado are beginning to integrate a PYD approach because it supports adolescents in ways that are developmentally appropriate and meets young people where they are at. The ages of 9 to 25 are comprised of great change in which young people are becoming more independent and self-reliant; this is distinct from childhood, in which they are dependent on adults to do things for them.

The physical, social and psychological changes of adolescence impact how they interact with the world, and many adults are challenged with how to respond to this transformation. In practice, PYD incorporates the development of skills, opportunities and authentic relationships into programs, practices and policies. Rather than being considered “problems,” youth and young adults are considered resources.

Research shows that youth with more developmental assets, such as positive family communication, a supportive school environment and a sense of belonging and purpose have better health and social outcomes.

A variety of national organizations are promoting the use of PYD, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Grand Futures Prevention Coalition will be offering virtual classes to promote Positive Youth Development throughout the year. To get news about upcoming classes, email us at

Sarah Valentino is the community education coordinator for Grand Futures.

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