Now that we've spent some time thinking about what PYD is, let’s look at some specific, and observable characteristics of the most successful youth programs. It's important to keep in mind that just like the youth they work with, each staff member is not good at every activity or skill, nor is every adult cut out to work with youth (especially using a positive youth-development approach). Individuals who are passionate about forming and maintaining positive and supportive relationships with youth are truly the heart of the best youth programs.
Ultimately, when I evaluate a program or individual staff member I look for individuals who model, express, and embody the expectations that they have for youth in everything that they do. With that in mind, here are five questions to ask when you visit a camp or youth program to determine if it is the best place for your child to thrive.
1) Do the staff members take the time to greet and have meaningful conversations with each and every child in the program on a regular basis?
2) Do the staff members model and embody the rules and expectations that they have for the children?
3) Are there multiple opportunities for the children to practice making positive choices, and can they choose not to participate in activities that they perceive are too far outside of their comfort zone?
4) Is there a climate that celebrates diversity and the unique contributions that every participant brings to the program?
5) Does the program have a positive tone and energy, and does it feel like the kind of safe and comfortable place that you would want to spend time?
If you answered yes to every one of these questions, congratulations, you have likely unearthed a great program! Even if you did not answer yes to them all, if you maintain and share these expectations you can increase the likelihood that your child will receive the support necessary to thrive and realize their ultimate potential.