The Five Cs of Positive Youth Development

In our theoretical discussions of the Five Cs (Lerner, 2004; Lerner et al., 2005, we have suggested that they may be latent constructs that capture the essence of to-be-developed indicators of the numerous mental, behavioral, and social relational elements that could comprise positive youth development (PYD). Initially proposed by Little (1993), these theoretical latent constructs were first discussed as Four Cs, i.e., competence, confidence, (positive social) connection, and character. Eccles and Gootman (2002), Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003a, 2003b), and Lerner (2004) reviewed evidence from research and practice that converges in stressing the use of these Cs and potentially of a fifth C, caring (or compassion), in understanding the goals and outcomes of community-based programs aimed at enhancing youth development.

Derived from this literature, the current working definitions of these Cs are presented in Table 18.1. As explained below, these definitions frame the measurement model and the structural equation modeling procedures undertaken in the research on PYD we will discuss in this chapter.

Little (personal communication, March 2000) and Lerner (2004; Lerner et al., 2003a) have suggested that when these Five Cs are present in a young person there emerges a Sixth C, contribution.

TABLE 18.1

"Working Definitions" of the 5Cs of Positive Youth Development






Caring and Compassion

Positive view of one's actions in domain specific areas including social, academic, cognitive, and vocational. Social competence pertains to interpersonal skills (e.g., conflict resolution). Cognitive competence pertains to cognitive abilities (e.g., decision making). School grades, attendance, and test scores are part of academic competence. Vocational competence involves work habits and career choice explorations.

An internal sense of overall positive self-worth and self-efficacy; one's global self-regard, as opposed to domain specific beliefs.

Positive bonds with people and institutions that are reflected in bidirectional exchanges between the individual and peers, family, school, and community in which both parties contribute to the relationship.

Respect for societal and cultural rules, possession of standards for correct behaviors, a sense of right and wrong (morality), and integrity.

A sense of sympathy and empathy for others.

Note. Derived from Lerner (2004) and Roth & Brooks Gunn (2003a).

That is, a young person enacts behaviors indicative of the Five Cs by contributing positively to self, family, community, and—ultimately—civil society (Lerner, 2004). Such contributions are envisioned to have both a behavioral (action) component and an ideological component (that is, the young person possesses an identity that specifies that such contributions are predicated on moral and civic duty; Lerner et al., 2003a). In other words, when youth believe they should contribute to self and context and when they act on these beliefs, they will both reflect and promote further advances in both their own positive development and, as well, the "health" of their social world. Theoretically, there will be adaptive individual — context developmental regulations.

The developmental course of the ideological and behavioral components of contributions to self and society remains to be determined. For example, given the orthogenetic principle (Werner, 1957), it may be that these components are differentiated (e.g., weakly correlated) in early developmental periods (e.g., at the beginning of adolescence) and become integrated later in ontogeny. However, as we discuss below, there is reason to believe that both positive development and youth contributions to self and to their ecology are likely to take place in the context of community-based, youth development programs.


Numerous scholars, practitioners, advocates for youth, and policy makers have studied and discussed effective youth programs (e.g., Benson, 1997; Blum, 2003; Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1995; Damon, 1997; Dryfoos, 1990, 1998; Lerner, 2004; Lerner & Galambos, 1998; Little, 1993; Pittman, 1996; Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003a, 2003b; Roth et al., 1998; Schorr, 1988, 1997; Villarruel et al., 2003; Wheeler, 2003). Although all contributors to this discussion may have their own ways of phrasing their conclusions, it is possible to provide an overview of the ideal features—the best practices—that should be integrated into effective positive youth development programs. It is clear that these features of best practice involve coordinated attention to the youth's characteristics of individuality and to the specifics of his or her social context.

Moreover it is also clear that community-based programs that seek only to prevent problems are not, in the main, successful in promoting the development of the clusters of behaviors associated with the Five Cs of PYD (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003a). Adoption of only a prevention orientation fails in promoting positive youth development because such an effort does not provide the program features—or more broadly the individual and contextual resources or, what Benson and his colleagues from Search Institute (Benson, 2003, Benson et al., 1998) term the "developmental assets"—fostering the thriving youth — civil society relation. What does assure, or at least increase the likelihood, of the provision of these developmental assets, of the engagement of youth with their communities, and of PYD?

Catalano et al. (1999) define positive youth development and the programs linked to its occurrence as involving attempts to promote characteristics associated with several of the Five Cs or with some of the ecological developmental assets specified by Search Institute (Benson, 1997, 2003). Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003a) also use the Five Cs as a frame for evaluating the effectiveness of programs aimed at promoting positive youth development.

For instance, programs promote positive youth development when they instill in youth attributes of competence such as self-efficacy, resilience, or social, cognitive, behavioral, and moral competence; attributes of confidence such as self-determination and a clear and positive identity; and attributes of social connection such as bonding; attributes of character such as spirituality and a belief in the future (Catalano et al., 1999). In addition, programs promote positive youth development when they enhance ecological assets related to empowerment such as recognition for a young person's positive behaviors, provide opportunities for prosocial involvement, and support prosocial norms or standards for healthy behavior (Catalano et al., 1999). In this regard, Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003a) compare programs that seek to promote the Five Cs—programs that are aimed at youth development—with programs that just have a youth focus but are not developmental in orientation and, in particular, are not aimed at the promotion of positive development. Roth and Brooks-Gunn (2003a, p. 217) note that the former, youth development programs are "more successful in improving participants' competence, confidence, and connections."

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  • senay
    Which is not one of the five cs of positive youth development?
    2 years ago
  • Melissa
    What are the 5 C's stand for in psychology?
    8 months ago
  • greta
    What are the five cs in developmental psychology?
    8 months ago
  • frances
    What you’ve learned about the 5 Cs of Positive Youth Development.?
    6 months ago
  • jai
    What are the 5 c s in postitive youth development?
    15 days ago

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