Academic journal article Family Relations

Contemporary Models of Youth Development and Problem Prevention: Toward an Integration of Terms, Concepts, and Models

Academic journal article Family Relations

Contemporary Models of Youth Development and Problem Prevention: Toward an Integration of Terms, Concepts, and Models

Article excerpt

Over the past several years, increased interest in preventing youth problems and promoting healthy youth development has led youth and family practitioners, policy makers, and researchers to develop a wide range of approaches based on various theoretical frameworks. Although the growth in guiding frameworks has led to more complex models and a greater diversity in the options available to scholars and practitioners, the lack of an integrative conceptual scheme and consistent terminology has led to some confusion in the field. Here, we provide an overview of three approaches to youth development and problem prevention, critically examine their strengths and weaknesses, and offer some elaborations to help clarify, extend, and integrate the models. We conclude by discussing some general implications for researchers, practitioners, and policy makers.

Key Words: adolescence, assets, prevention, resiliency, youth development.

In recent years, efforts to address youth problems and enhance youth development have become increasingly more broad-based, involving families, professionals, and community leaders representing a wide range of professions and constituencies. Family professionals are likely to be key players in these initiatives, given their interest in the well-being of youth and the important role that families play during adolescence. Paralleling this movement toward broad-based, community approaches to youth issues has been the growth of conceptual frameworks used to guide policy and programs aimed at preventing youth problems and enhancing development. Although this growth has led to more complex models and greater diversity in options available to scholars and practitioners, the lack of an integrative conceptual scheme and consistent terminology has fostered confusion in the field. Such issues are not unique to the field of youth development or to adolescence, but also are germane to family scholars interested in other periods of the life course as well.

In this article, we briefly review the most prominent of these approaches, examine their origins, and highlight what we believe are their primary strengths and weaknesses. We then discuss how these approaches can be better integrated and expanded. We end by considering some implications for both theory and practice.

Contemporary models of youth development and problem prevention generally can be grouped into one of three types: prevention, resiliency, and positive youth development. Although each approach makes a unique contribution to our understanding of coping, development, and human adaptation, they also share several key features and a mutual vision directed at improving the life chances of young people. Unfortunately, the literature in this area fails to provide consistency in the terminology used to designate certain fundamental constructs common to them all, especially with respect to terms related to risk and protection, assets or resources, and the designation of successful outcomes. For this reason, we begin with a brief discussion of terminology to provide a clearer understanding of our use of these terms.

Clarification of Key Concepts

Within the literature on youth development and problem prevention, a common source of confusion occurs in the use of various terms related to risk and protection. For example, one important but frequently overlooked distinction is between risk and protective factors that serve as probability markers or social address indicators (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) for the incidence of particular outcomes and risk and protective processes that seek to describe specific causal paths or mechanisms to explain the reason for increased risk or protection (Kirby & Fraser, 1997; Rutter, 1993).

The construct of a risk factor initially was derived from studies in epidemiology, where the goal was to identify statistical correlates of illnesses, such as breast cancer or heart disease, within a particular group or population. …

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