Benefits of Positive Youth Development

Thankfully, most adolescents are developing without major problems. Most do not use tobacco or illicit drugs—although 47% of 11th graders in Oregon report drinking alcohol. Most do not engage in criminal behavior. Most are not depressed.

The absence of major teen problems, however, is not sufficient to ensure a healthy future. Our economy and society will benefit from having more young people arrive at adulthood with skills, interests, and habits to make them productive members of society.

The Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker documented how education raises earnings and how a well-educated labor force is vital to a state’s or a country’s economic development in this age of high technology.5 Positive youth development is money in the bank.

Although the money is important, something else is even more valuable: Having more of our young people become successful. This is a matter of our values. We can choose to place a high priority on every child developing successfully—across the cultural, ethnic, economic, and geographic diversity of our nation. We can choose to place a high priority on every adolescent today becoming academically proficient, sound in spirit, loving in demeanor, solid in character, and healthy in body and mind.

Imagine what it would mean for the future—citizens choosing to strive for significant reductions in the number of youth with social, emotional, behavioral, or health problems; citizens choosing to strive for soaring numbers of highly educated, caring, and productive youth. We can achieve such a goal, as shown by the powerful evidence reviewed below. To do so, we must generate a collective commitment to the value of having every child—even the most vulnerable—develop to his or her fullest potential.