Staying Positive: Using a Positive Youth Development Framework to Explore the Contribution of Ecological and Individual Assets to Youth Development

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Melton, Theresa, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Deutsch, Nancy, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia

Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a developmental process used to examine the mechanisms that drive changes within an individual over their lifetime and to help explain why there are variations in the ways in which individuals develop. A unique feature of PYD is the assumption that when assets within an individual are aligned with assets in one’s ecology, optimal development occurs. In this dissertation, a PYD framework is adopted in order to examine the role of assets, both within the individual (internal assets) and within an individual’s ecology (external assets). With this framework, I explore how internal assets change across adolescence, the mechanisms by which external assets can influence youth trajectories, and the ways in which external assets across a youth’s ecology together influence the development of positive characteristics. In the first study, I examined trajectories of an important internal asset, self-esteem, for girls during adolescence using Latent Growth Curve Analysis. In the second study, I explored the mechanisms by which parental supervision impacted youth development during adolescence, exploring the role of additional supportive relationships. Finally, in the third study, I examined the role of multiple external assets across six contexts of a youth’s ecology in an effort to better understand how relationships with peers and adults changed during adolescence. I also explored the association between aspects of a youth’s system and positive qualities associated with thriving, such as the Five C’s of PYD, using egocentric social network analysis. Quantitative and qualitative analysis were also utilized to determine which individuals, peers or adults, provided support during adolescence, and to further explore what characteristics contributed to a youth’s decision to seek an adult out as a source of support. Findings from these papers, together, provide information on the role of assets from a developmental perspective, including information on developmental periods when internal assets are most likely to develop, the mechanisms by which external assets contribute to youth developing important characteristics, and the complimentary roles multiple external assets have during adolescence. This information is essential in informing researchers and practitioners as they work to better align youth contexts with the needs and strengths of youth in an effort to promote positive development to ensure all youth thrive.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Positive Youth Development, Assets, Adolescence, Latent Growth Curve Analysis, Mediation, Moderation, Egocentric Social Network Analysis, Mixed Methods
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