When considering how young people play into the mix of healthy communities, many think it’s just about the quality of their schools. Or how many youth centers are in the neighborhood. Or even what the juvenile crime rate looks like. Positive youth development, however, is a framework that relies on all the factors that intersect with a young person’s life – including, perhaps most importantly, the physical and economic communities in which he or she grows up.
Karen Pittman, at The Forum for Youth Investment, puts it this way: “[positive youth development] is the ongoing growth process in which all youth are engaged in attempting to meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful, and be spiritually grounded; and to build skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives.” The most interesting aspect of this description is the way it presents youth development as an ongoing process. We often think of simply “solving youth problems” with quick, punitive fixes: kids hanging out too late? Pass a curfew ordinance. It’s perceived that more kids than ever are doing drugs? Adopt a zero tolerance policy. Substandard test scores? Decrease school funding. We know that real solutions are much more complex than that. Offering young people high expectations, combined with high levels of support go a long way towards better outcomes across all areas.
It sounds a lot like what makes healthy, sound communities, too. Solid community economic development is a thoughtful combination of the people, places, supports, and services that we inherently know our neighborhoods need to create successful growth for everyone. And quality youth development is an important contributor to that success; it’s only when all the players come together, strategically, in a way that makes sense for everyone, can real progress occur.
For more information about how MCCOY promotes positive youth development in