Camp Fire & the Positive Youth Development Movement

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If you’ve been around Camp Fire at all, you’ve probably heard the term Positive Youth Development (PYD). Good ol’ context clues can tell you that this movement is about helping young people grow up happy, healthy and engaged, but here’s the deeper dive:

It wasn’t until the 20th century that adolescence was recognized as a developmental stage. As the century progressed, and cultural markers between childhood and adulthood stretched apart, efforts to help young people focused on prevention.

By the mid-century, social scientists and youth organizations were working to keep kids away from addiction, violence and early pregnancy. It was all about fixing problems and blocking the negatives.

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Then later in the 20th century, researchers started to shift focus. They began to see patterns in the lives of healthy kids that showed how important positive inputs were. Efforts began to switch from prevention to preparation models that provided young people with proactive tools to build better lives.

By the 21st century, there was a pretty big body of scholarly and practical evidence supporting that flip. For example, The Search Institute found there were 40 common “building blocks” behind thriving kids. They detailed these forty assets after surveying 90,000 young people in 2010. These included external assets (like a caring school climate, participating in service activities and having positive friends) and internal assets (being motivated to learn, having a sense of purpose and decision-making skills).   

Although an emphasis on the positive has been a part of Camp Fire since its beginning 1910, PYD research helped us start formalizing our approach. A few years ago, we worked with the Thrive Foundation for Youth to put the newest PYD methods to work in our programs. The result is our successful, research-based Thrive{ology} framework.

Thrive{ology} gives kids and teens the tools they need to find their sparks, practice a growth mindset, manage their goals and reflect on their experiences. Positive Youth Development undergirds our youth-led, passion-driven programs.

We love knowing that PYD science and practice backs up what Camp Fire has always known: Give young people the opportunity to find their sparks, lift their voices and discover who they are…and they’ll change the world.

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40 Developmental Assets. Search Institutes Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors. 2011.

US DHHS Family and Youth Services Bureau National Clearinghouse on Families & Youth (2007). Putting Positive Youth Development into Practice [Electronic Version].


March 18, 2018

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