What factors promote positive youth development among Chinese youth?

Wang, Y., Li, X., Bronk, K. C., & Lin, D. (2022). Factors that promote positive Chinese youth development: A qualitative study. Applied Developmental Science, 0(0), 1–18. 


Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • Despite the pervasive use of positive youth development (PYD) in western countries, there’s a lack of work on PYD in mainland China, which has the second-largest youth population in the world.
  • Although there is a Four Cs model in China, there is still an unclear focus on promoting PYD in Chinese youth.
  • This study assessed the promotive factors (in other words, the environmental assets, and individual strengths) that help Chinese youth flourish.
  • Six individual strengths:
    • Goal setting (li-zhi)
    • Sparks
    • Self-reliance (zi li)
    • Goal-oriented hard work (hong yi)
    • Self-improvement
    • Intention to contribute
  • Four categories of environmental assets.
    • Supportive Relational Networks
    • Rules & Expectations
    • Opportunities & Activities
    • Promotive Climates
  • Some promotive factors, such as goal-setting (li-zhi) and goal-oriented hard work (hong-yi), were unexpectedly similar to western promotive factors.
  • Other identified promotive factors (such as “intention to contribute”) were distinctively Chinese.
  • Adolescents and adults had different opinions about who offers the most support needed for optimal youth development.
    • Adults thought that families and parents were the most important promotive factors, while adolescents thought their peers were the most important.
  • Home-school collaboration* is another promotive factor that was distinctly Chinese. Meanwhile, the community played a smaller role in promoting PTD.
  • Chinese youth programs have been established across various contexts (families, communities, schools, etc.) to promote optimal youth development.

* = Describes the collaboration between parents and teachers in ensuring their children’s academic success

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

How can we help Chinese youth thrive? To begin to address this question, the present study explored the promotive factors (i.e., the individual strengths and environmental assets) that enhance Chinese youths’ healthy development. Interviews were conducted with Chinese adolescents (n = 12), their teachers (n = 12), and their parents (n = 20). Findings highlight six individual strengths, including goal setting, sparks, self-reliance, goal-oriented hard work, self-improvement, and intention to contribute, and four categories of environmental assets, including supportive relational networks, rules and expectations, opportunities and activities, and promotive climates. Some of the promotive factors that emerged are similar to ones identified as relevant to western youth, and others appear to be particular to Chinese youth. Findings have important implications for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers interested in supporting the healthy development of Chinese adolescents.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The present study set out to identify the individual strengths and environmental assets, or the promotive factors, that support the healthy development of Chinese adolescents. To the best of our knowledge, this study represents the first attempt to inductively examine the factors that support Chinese PYD. This study not only identified promotive factors that appear to be more universal, but it also highlighted some that appear to be particular to Chinese youth. In so doing, our study underscores the argument that culture is more than a variable to be manipulated. Instead, it should be thought of as a “symbolic and behavioral inheritance” embedded in every aspect of human development (Shweder et al., 2006, p. 719). Researchers have called for greater attention to the positive development of youth around the world (Lerner et al., 2019; Sherrod, 2017), and our study represents an important step in that direction.

Interestingly, some of the promotive factors that emerged in the present study were similar to the promotive factors in western cultures. For instance, many of the environmental assets (e.g., caring teachers, positive peer influence, clear rules and moral guidance, adult role models, warm school climate, etc.) map onto Benson’s (2007) influential developmental assets model. Two of the individual strengths, the goal setting (li-zhi) and goal-oriented hard work (hong-yi), map onto the western concept of intentional self-regulation, which refers to one’s self-management in goal setting and striving to achieve personally meaningful aims (Gestsdóttir & Lerner, 2007; Gestsdóttir & Lerner, 2008). Research finds that intentional self-regulation is positively associated with happiness and academic performance among Chinese adolescents (e.g., Chang et al., 2020; Chang et al., 2017; Zheng et al., 2015), and it serves as an essential mechanism through which external assets (e.g., school assets) shape these positive developmental outcomes. In addition, similar to western youth, Chinese youth pursue sparks (Benson & Scales, 2018) as a way of enhancing their healthy development. Taken together, our findings contribute to the larger body of positive youth development research by highlighting some more universal promotive factors.

To access this article, click here.