Grand Futures: What is Positive Youth Development?


If you are a parent, teacher, coach, or pro serving youth, you may have heard of this Positive Youth Development Trendy Idea, or PYD.

Although often used to describe the general hope of raising healthy young people in our community, the 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 improve current models of care across the spectrum of prevention, intervention and treatment. Conceptually, the principles of the PYD can guide communities and organizations so that all young people can reach their full potential.

Positive youth development promotes five principles:

1. Based on strengths. Take a holistic approach that focuses on and build on the inherent strengths of an individual, family or community.

2. Including. Meet the needs of all young people by ensuring that the approach is culturally appropriate. The PYD encourages accessible strategies and takes into account barriers to participation.

3. Engage young people as partners. Ensure the intentional, meaningful and sustained participation of young people as equitable partners in programs, practices and policies that seek to have an impact on them. Rather than just participating or getting involved in activities, adults are encouraged to share leadership and decision-making with the youth they serve.

4. Collaborative. Create meaningful partnerships within and between sectors to effectively align our work. Organizations and schools need to work together to create effective support and share best practices.

5. Sustainable. Address long-term planning through funding, training capacity building, professional development and evaluation to ensure continued support and engagement of young people.

More and more programs in Northwest Colorado are starting to incorporate a PYD approach, as it supports adolescents in developmentally appropriate ways and meets young people where they are. The ages 9 to 25 are characterized by great changes in which young people become more independent and self-reliant; this is different from childhood, where they depend on adults to do things for them.

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

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

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

The Grand Futures Prevention Coalition will offer virtual courses to promote positive youth development throughout the year. For news on upcoming courses, write to us at

Sarah Valentino is the Community Education Coordinator for Grand Futures.


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