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Youth: environment, positive development, and resilience

Youth: environment, positive development, and resilience

Sometimes, it seems like we forget that children and youth are our future. They will be the new thinkers, the people who will rebuild societies and the ones who will be able to raise pacifist and tolerant communities. So, there are a million reasons whereby we have to advocate for them. According to Save the Children, there are three dangerous threats that are directly affecting children and as a consequence, they have a huge impact on youth development. Poverty, conflict, and discrimination against girls are putting more than 1.2 billion children at risk for an early end to their childhood. Moreover, many of these at-risk children live in countries where they are facing two or three of these threats at the same time.

Being raised in poverty it means a lot of things. We are not talking only about not having money but also about essential things for human development. Being poor tackles from material things to less access to services going through social and emotional deprivation. The effects of poverty can last a lifetime. Deficiencies in childhood and youth lead to stunted development. For instance, skills and abilities needed for life and work are not acquired, and as a result, limited future productivity as adults and transmission of poverty down to the next generation is expected. The concept of poverty can bring poor health, malnutrition –which causes stunting in development- and children and youth out of school or university.

The second big threat we are facing is armed conflict. Suffering violence, witnessing violence or fearing violence can cause lifelong disabilities and deep emotional trauma. Separation from family members and economic difficulties can expose girls and boys to exploitation in various forms as child labor, child marriage, sexual violence and recruitment by armed groups. Moreover, there are less visible dangers as a lack of food and the collapse of essential services such as health care, sanitation, and education.

The last threat affecting children and youth is the discrimination against girls. It is a truth that we have advanced in this issue and in almost every country a girl has more chances than decades ago, but there are still lots of things to do. For too many girls, especially those from the poorest families, still face discrimination and exclusion with respect to basic education, child marriage, early pregnancy, sexual violence, and unrecognized domestic work are situations that prevent them to live a normalized life. Besides, being from rural areas, belonging to a refugee condition or having a disability are added issues.

As we can see, there are lots of inputs surrounding youth. The abilities, attitude, skills, knowledge and all contexts that they are involved (indistinctly if they are micro or macro contexts), have a great influence on their human development. Biology, personality disposition, relationships, social institutions, culture, and history are some of the constructions where individuals develop themselves. So, the fact of being threatened by poverty, armed conflict and/or discrimination will leave a mark on the life path.

To see how important is the environment for young people we can focus on the theory of Positive youth development (PYD). PYD has been conceptualized in a number of ways, so it requires the integration of lots of factors. However, there are three cores supporting this theory: human development, community organization and development, and social and community change. Central to the PYD there are conceptions of developing the person, the contexts in which the person is embedded and the dynamic interaction between these factors.

Figure 1: A comprehensive theory of positive youth development. Retrieved from Positive Youth Development: theory, research, and applications.

Among different theoretical frameworks, the Five Cs Model of PYD is the most empirically supported, emphasizing the strengths of adolescents and, as a consequence, enables youth to be seen as resources to be developed. This model indicates that positive development occurs if the strengths of youth are aligned with the positive growth of environmental resources. The results from this alignment can promote the ‘’Five Cs’’: Competence, Confidence, Connection, Character and Caring. Also, we could add the Contribution, which means the participation that youth make in their spaces. When a young manifests the Five Cs over time, he or she is more likely to be in a life trajectory marked by welfare with a context that contributes to self, to family, to the community, and to the civil society. Thus, it is less likely to be on a trajectory of risk and problem behaviors such as substance abuse, delinquency, and depression.



The PYD has a clear link with the resilience of people. Following the definition of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, we understand resilience as the ‘the ability of individuals, communities, organizations or countries exposed to disasters, crises and underlying vulnerabilities to anticipate, prepare for, reduce the impact of, cope with and recover from the effects of shocks and stresses without compromising their long-term prospects. In other words, resilience can be described as a “process of adaption before, during and after an adverse event”Continuing with our target group, the resilience of youth can be observed and strengthened at multiple levels:


Levels where we can see resilience:

  • Individual: A resilient individual is healthy, has the knowledge, skills, attitude, competencies, mindset to adapt to new situations, be empowered, etc.
  • Household: A resilient household has members who are themselves resilient.
  • Community: A resilient community strengthens the resilience of its constituent individuals and households.
  • Local government: Can either strengthen or weaken resilience at the individual, household and community levels as it is responsible for infrastructure development, maintenance, social services and applying the rule of law.
  • National government: Resilience at this level deals with policy, social protection systems, infrastructure, laws and governance issues and can profoundly impact community resilience.
  • Organisations as National Societies: Make contributions that are integral to resilience at all levels.
  • Regional and global levels: The impacts of conflicts, violence, and insecurity; hunger; mass migration; economic recession and prosperity; pandemics; pollution and climate change; positive and negative effects of globalization and new technology all offer examples of the inter-connectedness of the levels and how actions at one level can negatively or positively impact the other levels.


In conclusion, if children and youth people have a positive development, they will be more resilient, and as a consequence, they could be more resources to go through complex and complicated situations. But as we can see, a positive development is not only a thing that youth can manage by themselves, as there is much more apart from individual aspects, the different levels where they can involve are fundamental. Poverty, armed conflict and discrimination against girls have a huge impact on people’s life and the capacity to change that is in our hands.


Carla Sala


B, Edmon. (July 2010). The Five Cs Model of Positive Youth Development: A Longitudinal Analysis of Confirmatory Factor Structure and Measurement Invariance. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2014). IFRC Framework for Community Resilience. Retrieved from: www.media.ifrc.org

Save the Children. (2018). The many faces of exclusion.

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