Skip over navigation

Journal Issue: When School Is Out Volume 9 Number 2 Fall 1999

Where Need Meets Opportunity: Youth Development Programs for Early Teens
Jane Quinn


Early adolescence is a time of burgeoning independence, autonomy, and focus on peers. It is also a time when individual interests, skills, and preferences become salient to young people. Not surprisingly, out-of-school programs designed to capture the interest of early teens are diverse in focus and varied in structure, ranging from sports teams to drop-in recreation centers, from museum apprenticeships to mentoring relationships between an individual teen and an adult. This article describes the array of various organizations that offer programs and services for youths in their early teens. It explains the philosophy of positive youth development that has emerged as a unifying theme in this long-standing but newly self-conscious field. Principles of best practice are reviewed, as are five key implementation challenges: increasing participation by youths; expanding access to programs, especially in low-income communities; improving funding; evaluating program effectiveness; and coordination with other youth services. The article closes with a discussion anticipating the new opportunities that accompany the attention and funding now going toward positive youth development programs that enrich the lives of young people through informal learning.