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Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
opment for all adolescents? Are they simply efforts to fill empty hours while parents are at work—even serving as a kind of babysitter? Our answer to these questions is that community programs should be purposeful, voluntary activities designed to offer concrete benefits to all the young people enrolled in them. Although they may indeed keep young people occupied while their parents are at work, their goal is not to simply fill up time but rather to support positive development during adolescence in specific ways that also help prepare youth for adulthood. As such, these programs and organizations should, and do, complement and support the primary nurturing and teaching roles of the family and the academic mission of the schools. Many of the best-regarded programs craft explicit links with both home and school. Some of the programs we reviewed even take place during the normal school hours in the school building itself.
Moreover, there is no question that some programs are organized to provide a modest counterweight to popular youth culture, which some see as toxic and damaging to young people. For example, some, seeing the current youth culture as misogynistic, organize programs for young men to encourage them to be respectful of young women and programs for young women to understand how current popular culture demeans them. Others offer both young women and men programs that teach them techniques to resist cultural pressures to become sexually active at an early age, to use illicit drugs, and to join gang activities. And still others include “media literacy” training that attempts to teach young people to become critical, discerning consumers of media. Thus, in such instances, community programs are not so much filling gaps left by families and schools, but rather trying to counteract broader cultural influences perceived to be harmful.
Discussion of whether or not to include school-based programs occupied a significant portion of the committee’s early deliberations. Although there are often fundamental structural, budgetary, and organizational differences between school-based and other programs, the function and potential impact of these programs are more similar than they are different. In our view, the examination of youth programs operating in schools and taking a positive youth development approach yet are independent of the schools’ instructional activities is necessary in order to provide a complete picture of community programs for youth. This is particularly true given the increased movement toward housing community programs for youth in schools and creating collaborations between schools and community-based organizations.