Positive Youth Development

Positive Youth Development (PYD) reflects an area of study applying positive psychology to helping children and youth develop individual strengths and improve assets that help them to grow and flourish throughout life.1 Seligman (2002)2 proposed that positive youth development is fostered when youth are encouraged to participate in enjoyable activities that align with their strengths within supportive environments. Larson (2000)1 emphasizes the development of initiative as a core quality of positive youth development and makes a case for participation in structured leisure activities (e.g. sports, arts, organized clubs) as an important context for such development. Participation in out-of-school structured leisure activities is associated with positive outcomes including improvements in academic achievement as well as personal (identity and skill development) and interpersonal development (social skills and friendships).1

Positive Youth Development

Concern: Children/youth with disabilities may not have the same opportunities to participate in out-of-school activities. The importance of children's participation in out-of-school leisure activities is central to Every Moment Counts After School Leisure initiative (see side tab on front page of website). Engaging in healthy hobbies and interests help youth with disabilities develop important life skills, make friends and enjoy life! Parents see that their children can be successful and happy engaging in out-of-school activities and become confident in encouraging further participation. Check out the After School Leisure tab. Watch the After School Leisure Video Clips of youth with disabilities and mental health challenges succeed in a healthy leisure pursuit.

Simple suggestions:

  • Show an interest in afterschool activities. Ask students you interact with about what they do after school and on weekends. Show an interest and acknowledge special interests and talents. Remember that there is more to a student than academic successes. Some students may struggle academically, but shine during out-of-school activities.
  • Attend extra-curricular activities when you can. According to high school teacher, Nick Provenzano3, "It's important to take an interest in the things students love if you want them to take an interest in what you love."
  • Find out what kind of activities are available and encourage participation in at least one structure out-of-school activity. Learn about school-sponsored after school clubs and activities as well as community-sponsored ones. Talk with the parents and student about possible activities. Do what you can to support participation.
  • Pay special attention to students with disabilities and those living in poverty as these students have less access and opportunities to participate in out-of-school activities. Talk with the school's occupational therapist or recreation therapist and request their assistance in helping youth with disabilities explore and participate in health-promoting extracurricular activities. Remember, it's the law! The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Sec. 300.107 Nonacademic services) indicates that states must ensure the following: a) Provision of supplementary aids and services determined appropriate and necessary by the child's IEP Team, to provide nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities in the manner necessary to afford children with disabilities an equal opportunity for participation in those services and activities; and b) Nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities may include ... athletics, ...recreational activities, special interest groups or clubs sponsored by the public agency, Etc. Make sure to address extracurricular participation as a part of student's IEP.

For more information on Positive Youth Development, refer to:

1 Larson, R. W. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist, 55, 170–183.
2 Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.
3 Provenzano, N. (2014). Making meaningful connections with students. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/make-meaningful-connections-with-students-nick-provenzano