Creative Youth Development: Key Characteristics

Creative youth development is an intentional process that helps young people build attributes and skills needed to participate successfully in adolescence and adult life. Creative youth development programs approach young people as active agents of their own change, with inherent strengths and skills to be developed and nurtured. Whether using the arts, humanities or sciences in such programs, certain characteristics are essential in any creative youth development program.

Effective creative youth development programs:

Provide safe and healthy youth spaces.
In addition to attending to basic food, shelter, and physical and mental healthcare needs, effective creative youth development programs develop environments in which young people feel protected, nurtured and secure. (For example, specifying clear ground rules; full procedures for dealing with emergencies; comfortable facilities; and activities that foster mutual trust and respect; etc.)

Are assets-based.
Instead of seeing troubled youths as “problems in need of fixing” or “recipients of services,” successful creative youth development programs see young people as “partners in learning” and “resources in the community.” By identifying and building upon pre-existing strengths, these programs extend their vision to the full, healthy development of all youth. (Examples of such “assets-based” programming include activities that uncover youth talent and expertise; skill-building projects; and community service, entrepreneurial, and part-time job opportunities; etc.)

Foster the development of positive relationships and social skills.
Creative youth development programs enable young people to develop stable relationships with caring and professional adult mentors and role models. They also offer opportunities for youths to engage in positive interactions with their peers. (Successful programs may include community- and team-building activities; one-on-one time with adult leaders; rituals that promote a sense of belonging; etc.)

Are youth-driven.
In successful creative youth development programs, youths become agents of their own development. With guidance from adults, the young people set and monitor personal goals. By choosing to participate in all levels of program design, administration, and evaluation, they take on leadership roles and develop a sense of ownership, investment, responsibility, independence and initiative. (In successful programs, youth have a significant voice in shaping their projects, the program and when appropriate, the organization; youths have involvement in decision-making; opportunities exist for youths to partner with adults; etc.)

Set high expectations for growth and learning.
Effective creative youth development programs encourage young people to take risks within a supportive environment. They offer rigorous skill-building instruction, require youths to commit to high but realistic levels of time and effort, and provide the resources to ensure success. Young people take chances, explore the unfamiliar, and push themselves to new levels of achievement. Culminating activities, such as final performances, exhibitions, readings, etc. create “safe opportunities” by challenging youths to meet goals, adhere to timelines, and create products they are proud to share with audiences. (For example, effective programs include activities that build competencies in the arts, humanities or sciences; provide clear expectations; strong, consistent, and professional adult instruction and guidance.)

Address the broader context in which creative youth development operates.
Creative youth development programs cannot effect change by providing programming in isolation; therefore successful programs are holistic and inclusive. They respond to the larger context in which they function by recognizing all the needs of the young people they serve and by integrating their efforts with other providers to create a coordinated community response to those needs. (Examples include a collaborative base of planning; shared support of the young people with families and community organizations; activities that deal with local, national, global, and historical issues; etc.)

Creative Youth Development