One of the main goals of youth engagement is to support positive youth development (PYD). PYD is a strengths-based approach where young people are engaged within their communities, schools, agencies, peer groups and families. PYD involves creating opportunities for them to develop positive relationships and acquire the knowledge and skills they need to make successful transitions to adulthood.1
PYD focuses on resilience and on building the protective factors in a young person’s environment to help them to overcome adversity. Based on the social determinants of health, protective factors include but are not limited to engagement in community and school activities, access to mental health care, caring adults, positive family relationships, prosocial peer groups, cultural belonging, etc.
Research suggests that when youth have multiple and diverse protective factors on which they can draw, they are less vulnerable to mental health challenges. 2 Young people across a range of communities and contexts also face different risk factors. The goal, then, is to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors. Not surprisingly, interventions are strengthened when youth are engaged as equitable partners in developing relevant programs and services. When meaningfully engaged, young people develop relationships and skills that promote resilience, and agencies and communities benefit from a greater understanding of issues. 3
Positive relationships: Youth engagement is founded on strong intergenerational partnerships, which are developed when adults work as allies to support, advocate for, and collaborate with youth throughout their positive development journey. These partnerships acknowledge that youth have historically been excluded from organizational and community decisions that directly affect them. 3 To rectify this, partnerships between youth and adults are built to support young people in their right to participate, to develop the programs designed to serve them and to have a voice in shaping the systems affect them.
Positive spaces: Communities and agencies develop spaces that promote protective factors and are built on positive relationships and interactions. Agencies work towards creating spaces with youth that are safe from physical, emotional and psychological harm. Youth are free to express themselves openly and authentically without fear of discrimination based on their gender, sex, sexual orientation, race, class, appearance, (or other identifying factors).
Positive opportunities: Youth have access to a variety of opportunities where they develop important life skills that can contribute to their own overall development, prepare them for the future and help them build healthier communities. 4 When youth are engaged in issues that affect them personally, they develop a sense of social connectedness and responsibility to the world around them. 3 Engaging environments support young people’s developmental success, and build active citizens and healthy adults. 5,6