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Positive Youth Development
Judicial, legal, law enforcement, justice, social service and school professionals should understand positive youth development principles and how they can be used to achieve better outcomes for court-involved youth. Positive Youth Development (PYD) focuses on assets and skills, rather than risks and problems, and allows youth to develop decision-making abilities, work as part of a team and help others. Research has shown that approaches that focus on youth’s strengths and assets and that help youth build resiliency are more effective than approaches that only address their needs or weaknesses.1 Experts suggest the following ways that PYD may be applied to respond to and prevent youth offenses:2
Research has shown that approaches that focus on youth’s strengths and assets and that help youth build resiliency are more effective than approaches that only address their needs or weaknesses.
- Support honest discussions between adolescents and their parents that address and resolve conflict while encouraging development and recognizing strengths and accomplishments.
- Encourage youth relationships with adults other than parents who can serve as positive role models and advisors.
- Promote safe and healthy relationships with peers, based on shared interests and support.
- Encourage healthy lifestyle choices, including exercise and nutrition.
- Support positive organized activities, such as sports, the arts, or faith-based leagues or groups that give youth a sense of belonging.
- Allow youth to participate in activities that enable them to be engaged in and feel attached to their and local events.
- Place youth in situations where they are able to make good decisions, use good judgment, come to understand the risks and consequences for their own decisions, set goals and envision a future where their goals are achieved.
Work or service-based alternatives to formal court involvement may also integrate aspects of PYD, especially when youth participation is based on individual interests and strengths. Numerous programs around the country have used PYD principles to help youth who have committed delinquent offenses to recognize and build on their own strengths while contributing to their communities, such as by using artistic talents to turn graffiti covered walls into murals, or using athletics (including coaching and mentoring) to build self-esteem and promote achievement.3
This language has been adapted from Section 1.3 of the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses.
1 Some experts have suggested that increasing youth resiliency involves: 1) increasing connectedness, or relationships with one or more supportive adult(s); 2) developing mastery or focusing on a youth’s particular skill or talent, such as painting; or soccer and 3) helping youth learn to control their own emotions (called affect regulation).
2 Adapted from the suggestions of Jeffrey Butts, Ph.D. in Coalition for Juvenile Justice. (2006) “Applying Research to Practice Brief: What Are the Implications of Adolescent Brain Development for Juvenile Justice?" Available at http://www.juvjustice.org/sites/default/files/resource-files/resource_138_0.pdf.
3 Butts, J. et al. (2010). “Positive Youth Justice: Framing Justice Interventions Using the Concepts of Positive Youth Development.” Washington, DC: Coalition for Juvenile Justice. Available at: http://www.juvjustice.org/sites/default/files/resource-files/Positive%20Youth%20Justice.pdf.