Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 483–504 | Cite as

Effectiveness of Positive Youth Development Interventions: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

  • Oana Ciocanel
  • Kevin Power
  • Ann Eriksen
  • Kirsty Gillings
Empirical Research


Positive youth development is thought to be essential to the prevention of adolescent risk behavior and the promotion of thriving. This meta-analysis examined the effects of positive youth development interventions in promoting positive outcomes and reducing risk behavior. Ten databases and grey literature were scanned using a predefined search strategy. We included studies that focused on young people aged 10–19 years, implemented a positive youth development intervention, were outside school hours, and utilized a randomized controlled design. Twenty-four studies, involving 23,258 participants, met the inclusion criteria and were included in the analysis. The impact of the interventions on outcomes including behavioral problems, sexual risk behavior, academic achievement, prosocial behavior and psychological adjustment were assessed. Positive youth development interventions had a small but significant effect on academic achievement and psychological adjustment. No significant effects were found for sexual risk behaviors, problem behavior or positive social behaviors. Intervention effects were independent of program characteristics and participant age. Low-risk young people derived more benefit from positive youth development interventions than high-risk youth. The studies examined had several methodological flaws, which weakened the ability to draw conclusions. Substantial progress has been made in the theoretical understanding of youth development in the past two decades. This progress needs to be matched in the intervention literature, through the use of high-quality evaluation research of positive youth development programs.


Positive youth development Sexual health Substance use Mental health Academic achievement Prosocial behavior Meta-analysis 


Author Contributions

OA, KG and AE conceived of the study. OA conducted the literature searches, data analysis and drafted the manuscript. KG participated in study design, statistical analysis, quality assessment and helped to draft the manuscript. KP contributed to study design, quality assessment and manuscript revision. AE participated in study design and co-ordination. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Conflicts of interest

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Standards

As a review of previous research, this study did not directly involve the use of human participants or animals.

Ethical Approval

No specific ethical approval was sought in the production of this review.

Informed Consent

Where relevant, authors of studies included in this review were contacted for permission to use their data and to seek unpublished data.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Team, Kings Cross HospitalNHS TaysideDundeeUK
  2. 2.School of Natural SciencesUniversity of StirlingStirlingUK
  3. 3.Area Psychological Therapies ServiceNHS TaysideDundeeUK
  4. 4.Psychology Department, Stratheden HospitalNHS FifeCupar, FifeScotland

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