What Exactly Is a Youth Development Program? Answers From Research and Practice What Exactly Is a Youth Development Program? Answers From Research and Practice

  • Roth J
  • Brooks-gunn J
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The philosophy guiding youth development programs—that resilience and compe- tency building are central to helping youth navigate adolescence in healthy ways— provides the groundwork for an exciting and promising array of programs for ado- lescents. Despite the number of programs or the importance of their objectives, whether they promote healthy adolescent development remains unclear because the definition of youth development programs is elusive and evolving. Drawing on both the literature and the results from a survey of highly regarded youth development programs, this article examines 3 defining characteristics of the youth development program—program goals, atmosphere, and activities. The results suggest a provi- sional definition of youth development programs based on the prevalent aspects of the goals, atmosphere, and activities reported by respondents. Youth development programs seek not only to prevent adolescents from engaging in health-compromis- ing behaviors but to build their abilities and competencies. They do this by increas- ing participants’ exposure to supportive and empowering environments where activ- ities create multiple opportunities for a range of skill-building and horizon-broadening experiences. The operational definitions of the 3 features of youth development programs can serve as the starting point for the development of better measures to assess the type and quality of experiences youth experience through participation in youth development programs, and the programs’ effective- ness at promoting positive developmental outcomes.

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  • Jodie L Roth

  • Jeanne Brooks-gunn

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