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Youth Development Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Ejire, Nigeria Dec 4, 2003
Child & Youth Rights   Opinions


One can define ‘youth development’ as: "...the ongoing growth process in which all youth are engaged in attempting to (1) meet their basic personal and social needs to be safe, feel cared for, be valued, be useful, and be spiritually grounded, and (2) to build skills and competencies that allow them to function and contribute in their daily lives."

This definition accurately describes youth development as a process that all young people go through on the way to adulthood. As the definition implies, it is a process or journey that automatically involves all of the people around a youth—family and community. A young person will not be able to build essential skills and competencies and be able to feel safe; cared for, valued, useful, and spiritually grounded unless their family and community provide them with the supports and opportunities they need along the way. Thus, youth development is also a process in which family and community must actively participate. As Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League, put it so succinctly in 1998, youth development is "what parents do for their children......on a good day."
Youth development, then, is a combination of all of the people, places, supports, opportunities and services that most of us inherently understand that young people need to be happy, healthy and successful. Youth development currently exists in a variety of different places, forms and under all sorts of different names.

People, programs and institutions involved in youth development are working toward positive results in the lives of youth. Some have clearly defined these desired positive results—or outcomes—in an attempt to more effectively work toward them. There are many efforts to define the outcomes of youth development, and while language may differ from place to place most express the results that most people want for their own children. These outcomes include but move above and beyond the academic skills and competencies which are the focus of most schools. The Center has identified those outcomes as the following:

1. A sense of safety and structure high self-worth
2. Self esteem, feeling of mastery, and future belonging
3. Membership perception of responsibility
4. Autonomy, a sense of self-awareness and spirituality
5. Physical, mental and intellectual health and employability civic
6. Social Involvement

There are a number of well-known factors in youths’ lives which contribute to reaching these positive developmental outcomes. The Search Institute has identified 40 assets, internal and external, which form a foundation for healthy development of young people. The 40-asset framework covers eight categories (support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity) and provides communities a tool to measure these assets in their youths’ lives.
People, programs and institutions who work with youth are engaged in youth development if there is strong evidence of the following practices:
Supports: Motivational, emotional and strategic supports to succeed in life. The supports can take many different forms, but they must be affirming, respectful, and ongoing. The supports are most powerful when they are offered by a variety of people, such as parents and close relatives, community social networks, teachers, youth workers, employers, health providers, and peers who are involved in the lives of young people.

Opportunities: Chances for young people to learn how to act in the world around them, to explore, express, earn, belong, and influence. Opportunities give young people the chance to test ideas and behaviors and to experiment with different roles. It is important to stress that young people, just like adults, learn best through active participation and that learning occurs in all types of settings and situations.

Quality services: Services in such areas as education, health, employment, and juvenile justice which exhibit: (1) relevant instruction and information, (2) challenging opportunities to express oneself, to contribute, to take on new roles, and be part of a group, and (3) supportive adults and peers who provide respect, high standards and expectations, guidance and affirmation to young people.

Youth development is not a highly sophisticated and complicated prescription for "fixing those troubled kids." Youth development is about people, programs, institutions and systems that provide all youth—"troubled" or not—with the supports and opportunities they need to empower themselves. For a nation with such a rich diversity of youth, this requires youth development in all shapes and sizes.



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