If positive youth development is truly a preventative approach to supporting all youth and ensuring their academic, social and personal success, why isn’t PYD engrained in our education system as part of what all educators do to endure student success?
During my 30+ year career in many different roles in education, I have heard the phrase “positive youth development,” more times than I can count. I believe the phrase is used in good faith by those that have a sincere desire to support, engage and promote asset building in youth. But what does it mean to truly promote and engage in Positive Youth Development?
Youth.gov defines positive youth development as “an intentional, pro-social approach that engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes, and enhances youth’s strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for youth people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strength.”
If positive youth development is truly a preventative approach to supporting all youth and ensuring their academic, social, and personal success, why isn’t positive youth development engrained in our education system as part of what all educators do to endure student success?
Here are a few of my best guesses on why positive youth development isn’t more present in our schools:
We’re Focused on the Short-Term
Prevention work is a hard, slow investment with long term outcomes. Unfortunately, we place a greater priority on the here and now of academics, testing, interventions and little to nothing on prevention strategies. In a society that that has a difficult time focusing on the long term, it can be almost impossible to gather investments without an instant payoff.
We’re Not Working Hard Enough to Combat Inequality
Schools play a key role in a young person’s life, but we’re not the only player. Business leaders, peer groups, families, community organizations, sports and churches are all a part of our youths’ communities and can make a great impact on them. But not all youth have the same access to these resources, and often youth who already have the support, resources, leadership skills and opportunities are sought out to be youth leaders or to participate in community projects. This means youth who don’t have access to the same resources often don’t have access to opportunities, which creates and compounds equity issues in education and elsewhere.
We’re Not Fully Engaging Our Youth
Most of the time when educators and communities are working together on youth development and creating youth related strategic plans, there is not one single youth present. If we really want to engage our youth, we need to include our youth. The most critical piece of positive youth development is to engage young people as equal partners. This concept goes against most everything in traditional public education. It also scares many adults who fear losing control. Relationships and connections are everything and if we don’t make or take the time to do that with our youth – with every single one of them- we will have missed an essential element to their success and ours.