Positive youth development (PYD) describes the investigation of ways to improve every domain of a child’s life. This includes physical, mental, and academic aspects, and targets development that is based on skill building, progress, and success. Rather than focusing on eliminating negative activities, such as bullying, drug or alcohol use, or aggression, PYD focuses on accentuating the positive opportunities and attributes a child has. This is especially critical for children of low socioeconomic status (SES). With limited resources, many SES children are at increased risk for obesity and the many physical health conditions that can accompany that, such as diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, increases in physical activity can improve psychological health and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also act as a bridge to social interactions with role models, which can ultimately help influence self-esteem, academic performance, and overall life satisfaction.
The importance of programs that utilize PYD cannot be understated. However, its impact has been understudied to date. To extend the existing literature on PYD, Sarah Ullrich-French of the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology at Washington State University assessed 197 young people before and after they participated in a four-week PYD program. She evaluated their levels of social competence, physical ability, self-worth, desire for physical activity, and optimism.
Ullrich-French found that the participants had significant increases in all measures at the end of the program. The most striking finding was that the social connections that the children made led to improvements in mental health. The participants who felt supported by their activity leaders were more interested in pursuing physical activity and felt better about themselves and their futures. These findings demonstrate that it is not only the activity in PYD, nor peer relations, but also leader interactions that contribute greatly to the outcome. Ullrich-French notes that these findings, although modest, should be replicated in longitudinal studies. However, she believes that the results of her study show that PYD can be beneficial to all youth, especially those from low SES. “Moreover, they suggest that perceptions of social connection can be meaningfully enhanced within a relatively short time in physical activity-based programs,” she said.
Ullrich-French, Sarah, Meghan H. McDonough, and Alan L. Smith. Social connection and psychological outcomes in a physical activity-based youth development setting. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 83.3 (2012): 431+. Health Reference Center Academic. Web. 28 Sep. 2012.
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