Youth Development Principles

Some HIV prevention programs (and funding) have only focused on reducing "problem behavior" such as teen sexual activity or lack of condom use if sexually active. In contrast, youth development programs have focused on building young people's personal strengths and assets, promoting life skills, goal setting, and supporting academic achievement. Integrating youth development principles into HIV prevention programs is a powerful way to support healthy adolescent development and reduce HIV risk behaviors.

According to, positive experiences, relationships, and environments all contribute to positive youth development. It is especially critical for programs serving young people with limited support from their families or communities (e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth; homeless youth; and youth in foster care) to take a youth development approach.

Advocates for Youth describes how youth development programs revolve around the following 6 principles:

  1. Youth development focuses on assets and strengths, not problems.
  2. Youth development programs address the real or human needs of young people.
  3. Young people should participate in designing the program and its activities.
  4. Programs should involve committed and knowledgeable adults.
  5. Youth develop within, and are profoundly influenced by, their environments.
  6. Successful youth development requires community partnerships.

Youth HIV prevention programs can integrate these principles into their work in many ways. Examples include:

  1. Develop programming that enhances external assets (e.g., support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time) and internal assets (e.g., commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity).
  2. Assess young people's needs and connecting them to needed social and medical services.
  3. Invite youth to participate as equal partners on an advisory boards or program development teams to ensure their involvement in designing the program and activities.
  4. Involve adults who are committed to youth development and knowledgeable about the importance of fostering youth assets as well as reducing risks.
  5. Understand that young people may face negative environmental influences (e.g., violence and substance use, unemployment). Remember, however, there are protective factors, such as family, friends, schools, goal setting, and resources designed to empower teens. Ensure your program and staff support the daily needs of teens in the program.
  6. Foster partnerships throughout the community, to identify other organizations and resources to refer youth to (e.g., food pantry, housing, substance use counseling or treatment, mental health, etc.) to meet their needs. This will help to ensure that most, if not all, needs of the youth served are met.
Testimonial Headshot
Our older youth, 19 to 24-year-olds, are Youth Builders. They sign on to be part of that program and co-facilitate or help train the younger youth."

Maranda - Washington, DC

Page last updated: April 2018