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Youth Development: An Overview of Related Factors and Interventions

Updated: Jul 17, 2020

Research has found that adolescence sets the course for an individual’s long-term social, cognitive, emotional, and cultural development. This review examines literature on positive youth development, risk/protective factors, and the research behind select interventions. Overall, the interventions discussed highlight the many factors that play a role in positive youth development and underline how significant addressing risk and protective factors can be.

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Adolescence is an extremely influential time in an individual’s life, setting the trajectory for development (including social, cognitive, emotional, and cultural) and behavior across a lifetime.[1] Youth that engage in antisocial behaviors and/or have adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at greater risk for future problem behavior and negative physical and mental health outcomes.[2] While many policies and programs target the risk factors and negative experiences in a youth’s life, positive youth development focuses on expanding youths’ inherent strengths as a way to promote positive behavior while also decreasing risky behaviors.[3] Positive youth development recognizes that preventing problems is not a complete solution; youth also should be properly prepared for encountering life problems by positive asset enhancement.[4] Positive youth development assumes that childhood is a time of relative plasticity, and youths’ trajectory is impacted by the relationships between biology, psychology, family, community, culture, and history.[5]

Youth’s Risk and Protective Factors

In the context of youth development, protective factors refer to experiences that decrease the likelihood of negative outcomes and increase the likelihood of positive outcomes.[6] Risk factors, on the other hand, refer to events that decrease the likelihood of positive outcomes and increase the chances of negative outcomes.[7] Risk and protective factors can be intrinsic or extrinsic, typically co-occur in individuals, and are not uniform across all social groups.[8] These factors also expand across domains: family, peer, community, and school.[9] Protective factors can act as a buffer against the impact of risk factors.[10] Positive youth development recognizes that increasing protective factors can be just as impactful as decreasing risk factors as it allows youth to establish healthy coping skills and sustained positive development. Table 1 highlights some important risk and protective factors found in youth development literature. Read more...

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