Best Practices

Positive Youth Development

Positive Youth Development (PYD)

"Problem-free is not fully prepared" (Pittman, 1991) and "fully prepared is not fully engaged" (Pittman, 1999).

Every child and young adult is regularly confronted with choices of whether to exercise or watch television, go to school, smoke, drink, use drugs, engage in risky sexual behavior, engage in violence or put him or herself in a potentially injurious situation. What each young person chooses will be related to a host of factors, including parent, family and community connection and support, religious and moral values, genetics, learning and developmental abilities and psychological factors.


All too often, individual prevention programs focus on a specific area of risk and lack the scope to incorporate the larger social and psychological issues contributing to risk-taking behaviors. Positive youth development provides a broader context in which to create and provide services, supports and opportunities to youth in order to strengthen ties to their families and communities, bolster their self-esteem, smooth the transition to adulthood, engage them in their communities, instill hope for their future and, thus, ameliorate the factors that lead to risk-taking behavior. Using a positive youth development approach, programs, organizations and communities can provide broad support for young people to enhance their existing strengths; foster feelings of self-worth and agency; and build motivation to set and reach future goals.


Colorado's Definition and Principles of Positive Youth Development 

PYD is an approach, not a program, that guides communities in the way they organize services, opportunities and supports so that young people can be engaged and reach their full potential." [1] It is a paradigm shift in the way to work with youth. Youth must be seen as resources, instead of problems to fix.


Thus, PYD depends on the full implementation of the following guiding principles:

  1.  A positive focus on physical and mental health, education, social, vocational, creative, spiritual & civic outcomes
  2. Youth Engagement - youth have a positive sense of self and are connected to positive peers, adults and communities
  3. Youth-Adult Partnerships - youth work with adults to make decisions for program and policy planning, implementation & evaluation
  4. Culturally Responsive - people recognize & respond proactively to variations in backgrounds/cultures, including but not limited to ethnic, racial, linguistic, learning and physical abilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and geographic location, to ensure inclusivity and equity.
  5. Includes ALL youth not just youth in risky environments or exhibiting risky behaviors
  6. Collaboration - private and public agencies; state and local partners; and the community, including families, work together to support youth
  7. Sustainability - long-term planning that includes funding, capacity building, professional development and evaluation exist for ongoing support of youth


Background Documents and Common Positive Youth Development Frameworks

 Evidence-Based Programs



Recommended Strategies

State Strategies & Policies

City/County Governance, Planning & Public Health


Related Topics


Colorado Resources






[1] Adapted from the National Research Council & IOM. Community Programs to Promote YD. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC. 2002