Paper explores positive youth development in the context of COVID

Ettekal, A. V., & Agans, J. P. (2020). Positive Youth Development Through Leisure: Confronting the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Youth Development, 15(2), 1–20.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting youth out-of-school-time programs (OST) and positive youth development in many detrimental ways. 
  • Because youth programs are one of the primary ways to foster and support positive youth development (PYD), there are many questions about effectively supporting youth with limited resources and sustaining youth leisure activities that promote development. 
  • This paper reviews important aspects that lead to effective youth development programs and provides ways to establish, maintain, and accommodate these aspects and apply them to unstructured leisure environments during COVID-19.
    • Special attention is paid to those who might be at the most risk, as well as what challenges of implementing better youth developmental programs might be.
  • It is important for adults who are influential in youth’s learning to invest time in receiving professional development and training. 

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption in the lives of millions of people, including children and adolescents. Youth out-of-school time (OST) programs are essential ecological assets and their disruption during the pandemic may have a major impact on youth developmental pathways. Youth programs are one of the primary ways to promote positive youth development (PYD) and, in turn, develop healthy and thriving young adults who contribute positively to society. The pandemic raises the question of how to sustain developmentally oriented forms of youth leisure in times of crisis and, especially, how to support youth with few resources. Although there is considerable scientific evidence regarding the promotion of PYD through OST programs (e.g., sport, clubs, youth groups), public health initiatives to control the pandemic also curtail the delivery of such programs. Nevertheless, research on youth programs can be applied to help support PYD during the pandemic. In this commentary, we review key elements contributing to the effectiveness of youth development programs and provide ideas for how to sustain, adapt, and create these elements and bring them into unstructured leisure settings in the face of the pandemic. In doing so, we highlight particular challenges to implementation, surmise who may be most at risk, and present potential opportunities afforded by the unique situation. Throughout, we highlight innovative examples of adaptation exhibited in affected communities. We conclude with a call to action for researchers and practitioners to unite efforts to support PYD through leisure even in the face of crisis.

Implications (Reprinted from Invest in Practitioner Professional Development)

As the youth sector navigates a new normal, we recommend searching for and investing in the professional development and training of the adults who most influence young people’s learning and development. Despite immediate challenges, the disruption in service delivery and the related potential freeing up of time (and unfortunate loss of jobs) may make professional development viable during the pandemic. We noted above the importance of youth-adult relationships. The pandemic has given too many professionals in the youth development field more free time, however unfortunate, and these professionals have not stopped caring and worrying about their youth. The youth development sector should pursue innovative ways to invest in the workforce, pay for professional development where possible, and create spaces and resources for staff to invest in their own professional growth. Programs should explore how they can strengthen their workforce as well as support them during these times or risk them 

leaving their programs or the youth development field altogether. To support these efforts, many intermediaries (e.g., the members of Every Hour Counts), as well as statewide afterschool networks and associations (e.g., the National Afterschool Association), are increasing access to virtual professional development opportunities. In conclusion, we will also need to be supportive of each other, both professionally and in recognition that many of us are facing this pandemic both as researchers or practitioners AND as parents or caregivers. Nevertheless, even as the pandemic creates new challenges and exacerbates existing disparities, opportunities to foster positive youth development persist as does our capacity to promote that development through our intentional actions. It will be up to us to sustain, adapt, and create the elements that we know work to support youth development during the pandemic.

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