adults. The point is not to ignore the importance of prevention strategies or the need for intervention and treatment with troubled adolescents, but rather to develop a broader framework that serves their needs and promotes positive outcomes for all young people, not just those who are already in trouble. Examples of programs that incorporate this approach include mentoring, school-based community service programs and other volunteer programs, school-to-work transition activities, and programs for arts, recreation, and the development of parenting skills (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2002).
The positive youth development approach represents a significant departure from earlier conceptions of adolescence, as Richard Lerner explained in a presentation that explored shifts in thinking over the past century as well as current links among theory, practice, and policy. Lerner grounded his discussion of phases in thinking about adolescence in the context of changing theoretical paradigms regarding human development over the entire life span. He pointed to the work of William Overton, who moved the field from a focus on the “nature versus nurture” dichotomy to the current conception of development as a process in which multiple levels of organization—ranging from the inner biological through the psychological to the physical, ecological, sociocultural, and historical—all play a role.
Pioneering studies of adolescence actually predate the nature versus nurture dichotomy. G. Stanley Hall, who published the first textbook on adolescence in 1904 (Hall, 1904), concurred with his contemporaries in viewing human development as a mirror of the evolutionary history of the species, in which humans evolved from beast-like to civilized persons. Adolescence, he argued, was the period during which young people needed to overthrow their beast-like impulses and become mature and civilized. This struggle accounted for the “storm and stress” characteristic of these years.
As Lerner explained, this deficit model—or focus on the upheavals and risks of the adolescent years—dominated research on adolescence throughout the first half of the 20th century even as researchers moved beyond many of the specifics in Hall’s thinking. By the 1960s, researchers began to question whether stress and disruption were universal elements of adolescence. Many young people do not experience the second decade of life as stormy, they value their relationships with their parents very much, their core values frequently are consistent with those of their parents, and they generally select friends who share those core values. Individual differences in the ways young people respond to challenges, including the concept of resiliency, began to emerge as a more important focus.