Youth development can be defined as “a process by which youth develop the personal, social, academic, and citizenship competencies necessary for adolescence and adult life based on their capacities, strengths, and formative needs.” In other words, youth development programs are designed to help youth be empowered and educated, as well as socially and mentally prepared to enter the adult world. These are skills that are gained by being a part of many different environments that encourage growth, interaction, and service.
Factors like civic engagement, household income and parental involvement can have a significant effect on a child’s development. According to Kids Count Data and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, as neighborhood poverty rates increase, undesirable outcomes rise and opportunities for success are less likely. More than 8.5 million youth are living in high poverty neighborhoods, according to Kids Count. These youth are more likely may face incarceration, or time in jail. While the number of youth locked up on a single day in America is on the decline, in 2010 more than 70,000 youth spent a day in jail. Thanks to improved public safety and youth development programs, this number is down nearly 40% since 1997, according to Kids Count Data.
Youth development can occur in programs where students learn how to play an instrument, get prepared for college, or build a business. Participating in activities such as these can help the youth academically, socially, and physically.
Students that participate in athletics, academics, or community service clubs are less likely to be involved in risky behaviors after school. Youth under the age of 18 are 29% more likely to get in trouble from the hours of 3pm-7pm when they are not involved in some type of youth development program. This could be prevented if they were meeting with their mentor, working at the YMCA, or spending time with adults that share their passion with in the 4-H Club. Clubs like those encourage youth to find adults that they can trust and share experiences with in their lives. Trusted adults like teachers, counselors, and parents are all there to answer questions about what is going on in life or in the future.
Organizations with a focus on youth development include: 4-H, YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, C5 Youth Organization, Youth Service America (YSA), Boys & Girls Club of America, GivingPoint, and College Greenlight. The YMCA, which should be a name that you are familiar with, serves 9 million youth in around the U.S. YSA is another great organization; they host Global Youth Service Day, the largest youth service day, in April of every year. If you are more interested in building leadership skills, come from a high-risk area, and want to go to college then maybe C5 is for you.
A great way to positively impact youth development is through organized athletics. Participation in athletics has a positive association with academic achievement. Studies have shown that high school athletes have higher grades than non-athletes, lower absentee levels, a significantly smaller percentage of discipline referrals, lower percentages of dropouts, and higher graduation rates.