on prevention, but progress has been made in defining key concepts and describing biopsychosocial pathways that influence positive development. Important opportunities exist for research to make rapid advances, particularly to improve understanding of how genetic and environmental factors influence developmental pathways (National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2000, p. 13).

The discussion that follows focuses on competence or the achievement of developmentally appropriate tasks, which the committee contends should form the basis for mental health promotion research and intervention, and characteristics of healthy development as young people progress from infancy through young adulthood that can be used to operationalize competence.

Defining Competence

Masten and colleagues define competence as “a family of constructs related to the capacity or motivation for, process of, or outcomes of effective adaptation in the environment, often inferred from a track record of effectiveness in age-salient developmental tasks and always embedded in developmental, cultural and historical context” (Masten, Burt, and Coatsworth, 2006, p. 704). Similarly, Kellam, Branch, and colleagues (1975) conceptualize competence from a life-course social field perspective, in which the individual must adapt to new tasks in different social fields (e.g., family, school, peers) at each phase of development. Positive youth development can be viewed as the facilitation of competence during adolescence. Based on a comprehensive review of youth development programs and meetings of experts, Catalano, Berglund, and colleagues (2004) identified multiple goals of programs designed to promote positive youth development: promote bonding; foster resilience; promote social, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and moral competence; foster self-determination, spirituality, self-efficacy, clear and positive identity, belief in the future and prosocial norms; and provide recognition for positive behavior and prosocial involvement.

The committee uses the term “developmental competencies” to refer to young people’s ability to accomplish a broad range of social, emotional, cognitive, moral, and behavioral tasks at various developmental stages. Acquisition of competence in these areas requires young people to adapt to the demands of salient social contexts and to attain a positive sense of identity, efficacy, and well-being. We note, however, that while there is increasing interest in understanding and promoting these positive aspects of development (e.g., Commission on Positive Youth Development, 2005), research in this area is at a relatively early stage. At the same time, research is beginning to identify factors that affect success or failure in accomplishing specific developmental tasks and the relationship to later development of problems



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement