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Positive Psychology and Youth

By Cynthia Della Ripa, LMFT – There is a wide variety of problems that are facing youth today. It can be a world of confusion and chaos taking place during a crucial stage of adolescent growth and development. Youth can learn how to live a mentally, physically and socially healthy life. This means helping youth understand their individual meaning of success and the skills it takes to evolve into a thriving, productive adult. Today’s research on psychology clearly demonstrates the significant impact of positive psychology on youth. Positive psychology leads to a greater quality of life and improved physical, emotional and mental well-being. Treatment is not solely nurturing what’s broken but also nurturing what is best within us. Positive psychology principles that can be applied to youth development are as follows:

  1. Everyone Has a Unique Set of Abilities and Assets. Teenagers often become depressed and hopeless when they feel they cannot meet certain external expectations from family and peers. In adolescent years especially, when teens are trying to discover their identity, it is common for them to compare themselves to others and often feel less than. This is a critical time for youth to focus on their uniqueness and their strengths in order to find their authentic selves.  Building one’s own capabilities and skills can lead to a more productive and fulfilled life. Encouraging and providing youth with opportunities to build their talents will not only help them feel purposeful and build self-esteem, it will serve as a buffer against psychological and physical distress.
  2. Broaden and Build. A positive state of mind promotes creativity, flexibility and growth, leading to better problem solving skills. It is easy to get caught up on what’s wrong in life and focus on the negative rather than the positive. Looking at positive aspects of life and focusing on what’s right can promote a healthier mental state.  For example, focusing on supportive relationships or the achievement of an award, can help youth see the good things that are happening in their life and identify what is important to them.
  3. Positive feelings repair negative effects. It seems negative emotions are necessary for growth, but are more difficult to let go of, where positive emotions are harder to retain.  Rather than try to eliminate negativity, we can balance negative feelings with positive ones. Taking opportunities to engage in meaningful activities, recalling positive memories, spending time in nature, creating “happy” rituals, meditation, expressing gratitude, getting enough sleep and exercise, are all productive ways to cultivate positivity and promote well-being.

These simple, creative tools are easy to learn and the positive impact could last a life time.