A Strengths-Based Approach to Youth Development

December 19, 2018

Each year, Youth Development Network brings a strengths-based focus to the Capital Area Promise Scholars Summer Institute, our annual college-readiness program for local students. Here’s why.

By Adrian Ruiz, Executive Director, and Heidi Elneil, Youth Development Specialist/Trainer, Youth Development Network

We hear stories like this all the time: young people from under-resourced communities in our region who have been told in any number of ways that they are not good enough—for success in college, in professional pursuits, in healthy relationships, and so on—and they believe it.

Our approach is different. At Youth Development Network, we use strengths-based research to help young people identify their natural talents, feelings, and behavior, because we find focusing on their strengths—rather than their perceived weaknesses—is a far more effective approach to develop youth.

Because we focus on strengths, the young people we work with learn more about themselves, how they work best, and how they can be successful. Centering students’ strengths in a school setting, for example, provides a positive lens for young people to work together as a team in their learning, which can result in more successful academic achievement. Encouraging young people to appreciate the roles in which they and their peers thrive allows each person to reach their greatest potential, together, because they learn about each other and work more effectively.

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By understanding their talents and those of their peers, the young people we work with are empowered to grow as individuals and as members of a healthy, supportive community. They are empowered to apply their talents to academic success, relationship building, community involvement, and job readiness, and they are empowered to become confident, life-long leaders instilled with a greater sense of purpose.

As one student tearfully told us during a recent strengths-based leadership camp, “I’m a sixteen-year-old black kid from South Sacramento, and this is the first time anyone in my life has told me what’s right with me. I’m good. I’m good. I’m good.”

We hear stories like this all the time: young people flourish when they are empowered to embrace their strengths. Rather than constructing ideas of themselves shaped by notions of weakness, they frame themselves and their experiences in a positive way, shaped by their strengths and their hopes for their futures. That’s more than good.