Positive Youth Development Through Leisure: Confronting the COVID-19 Pandemic

Andrea Vest Ettekal, Jennifer P. Agans


The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption in the lives of millions of people, including children and adolescents. Youth out-of-school time (OST) programs are essential ecological assets and their disruption during the pandemic may have a major impact on youth developmental pathways. Youth programs are one of the primary ways to promote positive youth development (PYD) and, in turn, develop healthy and thriving young adults who contribute positively to society. The pandemic raises the question of how to sustain developmentally oriented forms of youth leisure in times of crisis and, especially, how to support youth with few resources. Although there is considerable scientific evidence regarding the promotion of PYD through OST programs (e.g., sport, clubs, youth groups), public health initiatives to control the pandemic also curtail the delivery of such programs. Nevertheless, research on youth programs can be applied to help support PYD during the pandemic. In this commentary, we review key elements contributing to the effectiveness of youth development programs and provide ideas for how to sustain, adapt, and create these elements and bring them into unstructured leisure settings in the face of the pandemic. In doing so, we highlight particular challenges to implementation, surmise who may be most at risk, and present potential opportunities afforded by the unique situation. Throughout, we highlight innovative examples of adaptation exhibited in affected communities. We conclude with a call to action for researchers and practitioners to unite efforts to support PYD through leisure even in the face of crisis.


pandemic; leisure; out-of-school time; positive youth development; “Big Three” features

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jyd.2020.962

Copyright (c) 2020 Andrea Vest Ettekal, Jennifer P Agans

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