Commentary: Leadership Education and a New Approach to Positive Youth Development

Parents often feel helpless when it comes to teen drugs and alcohol use. But prevention research over the past two decades has shown that by encouraging their kids to get involved in the community – either through school, church, sports, etc. – parents can change their kids’ ability to turn down drugs and alcohol. That’s powerful, and as a kid who’s seen it all, it’s my firm belief that parents are still the dominant force when it comes to kids’ decisions, especially in those crucial middle school years.

In the early 1990’s, two research teams, (Donavon, Jessor, & Cost and Hawkins, Catalano, & Miller) published research that supports what I’ve witnessed from my own experience as a teenager: we need to focus on the positive potential of kids, not on the negative potential of using drugs. If we empower teens and tweens to become comfortable in their own skin, to feel connected with their communities and to realize that their locus of control is internal, they’ll have the power to overcome many obstacles. Many researchers have termed this new approach to prevention “Positive Youth Development” because, rather than focusing on problem behaviors, it focuses on the amazing potential of young people.

There are countless opportunities to prevent risky adolescent behaviors by encouraging positive engagement instead. For example, creative and artistic students may contribute to a school literary magazine, fostering a sense of confidence about their abilities, and also making a contribution to the school community. Encouraging kids to appreciate diversity could help them to feel more “at ease” with themselves and gain a greater understanding of their larger global communities. Independent research projects and afterschool study groups can show kids that they have the power to change what and how well they learn. All of these are proven to work, and to kids like me, they sound more appealing than DARE.

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Beedie Savage – President of Quantum Units Education

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Will Savage

Quantum Units Continuing Education provides online CEU training's to licensed professional mental health therapists, counselors, social workers and nurses. Our blog provides updates in the field of news and research related to mental health and substance abuse treatment.