Youth Development & Youth Leadership

About Youth Development & Youth Leadership

Youth development is a process that prepares a young person to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood and achieve his or her full potential. Youth development is promoted through activities and experiences that help youth develop social, ethical, emotional, physical, and cognitive competencies. Youth leadership is part of the youth development process and supports the young person in developing: (a) the ability to analyze his or her own strengths and weaknesses, set personal and vocational goals, and have the self-esteem, confidence, motivation, and abilities to carry them out (including the ability to establish support networks in order to fully participate in community life and effect positive social change); and (b) the ability to guide or direct others on a course of action, influence the opinions and behaviors of others, and serve as a role model (Wehmeyer, Agran, & Hughes, 1998).

Conditions that promote healthy youth development are supported through programs and activities in schools and communities. Youth development researchers and practitioners emphasize that effective programs and interventions recognize youths’ strengths and seek to promote positive development rather than addressing risks in isolation. Youth who are constructively involved in learning and doing and who are connected to positive adults and peers are less likely to engage in risky or self-defeating behaviors.

Providing the conditions for positive youth development is a responsibility shared by families, schools, and communities. The conditions for healthy youth development reside in families, schools, and communities.
Families promote healthy youth development when they:

Schools promote healthy youth development when they:

Communities promote healthy youth development when:

It is unusual for all these positive influences to be present at the same time; unfortunately, too many youth grow up in circumstances that provide limited support for healthy development.

Well-designed and well-run youth development programs promote youth leadership by involving youth in needs assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation. A growing number of organizations include youth on their boards of directors. Effective programs engage all participating youth in constructive action through activities such as service learning, arts, and athletics; and emphasize common values such as friendship, citizenship, and learning.

Research on factors promoting resilience in youth at risk has shown that the consistent presence of a single caring adult can have a significant positive impact on a young person’s growth and development (Garmezy, 1993). Well-designed programs promote positive relationships with both peers and adults (National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, 2004).

Works Cited

Garmezy, N. (1993). Children in poverty: Resilience despite risk. Psychiatry, 56(1), 127-136.

Konopka Institute. (2000, Spring). Growing absolutely fantastic youth: A guide to best practices in healthy youth development. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota.

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. (2004). Organizational and programmatic components of effective youth programs. Retrieved January 19, 2006, from

Wehmeyer, M. L., Agran, M., & Hughes, C. (1998). Teaching self-determination to students with disabilities: Basic skills for successful transition. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

National Standards & Quality Indicators

Below are the specific Youth Development & Youth Leadership standards and indicators. See also Introduction to the National Standards & Quality Indicators.

3.1 Youth acquire the skills, behaviors, and attitudes that enable them to learn and grow in self-knowledge, social interaction, and physical and emotional health.
See Supporting Evidence & Research

  • 3.1.1 Youth are able to explore various roles and identities, promoting self-determination.
  • 3.1.2 Youth participate in the creative arts, physical education, and health education programs in school and the community.
  • 3.1.3 Youth are provided accurate information about reproductive health and sexuality and have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss sexual attitudes.
  • 3.1.4 Youth develop interpersonal skills, including communication, decision-making, assertiveness, and peer refusal skills, and have the ability to create healthy relationships.
  • 3.1.5 Youth interact with peers and have a sense of belonging.
  • 3.1.6 Youth participate in a variety of teamwork and networking experiences.
  • 3.1.7 Youth have significant positive relationships with mentors, positive role models, and other nurturing adults.

3.2 Youth understand the relationship between their individual strengths and desires and their future goals, and have the skills to act on that understanding.
See Supporting Evidence & Research

  • 3.2.1 Youth develop ethical values and reasoning skills.
  • 3.2.2 Youth develop individual strengths.
  • 3.2.3 Youth demonstrate the ability to set goals and develop a plan.
  • 3.2.4 Youth participate in varied activities that encourage the development of self-determination and self-advocacy skills.

3.3 Youth have the knowledge and skills needed to practice leadership and participate in community life.
See Supporting Evidence & Research

  • 3.3.1 Youth learn specific knowledge and skills related to leadership, and explore leadership styles.
  • 3.3.2 Youth learn the history, values, and beliefs of their communities.
  • 3.3.3 Youth demonstrate awareness, understanding, and knowledge of other cultures and societies and show respect for all people.
  • 3.3.4 Youth engage in experiential learning and have opportunities for genuine leadership, taking primary responsibility for developing plans, carrying out decisions, and solving problems.
  • 3.3.5 Youth participate in service to others in their community, their country, and their world.
  • 3.3.6 Youth identify and use resources in their community.

3.4 Youth demonstrate the ability to make informed decisions for themselves.
See Supporting Evidence & Research

  • 3.4.1 Youth practice self-management and responsible decision-making that reflects healthy choices.
  • 3.4.2 Youth demonstrate independent living skills.

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