Promoting Supportive Relationships in Youth Programs: A Self-Determination Theory Perspective

Mat D. Duerden, Ann Gillard


Although research suggests that positive contact with non-parental adults is developmentally beneficial for youth; many adolescents do not have access to such relationships. It is important that adults structure existing relationships to optimize positive youth development. Relationships with adults, who support youth’s needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence, provide youth with scaffolding as they navigate their way through adolescence. Self-Determination Theory offers a straight-forward approach to understanding the elements of contexts that best promote the development of supportive relationships. The purpose of this paper is to review the literature concerning youth-adult relationships, including their associated prevalence and developmental benefits across multiple contexts. These findings are then integrated into a framework of best practices for developing and supporting positive youth relationships with adults within youth program settings. Several theory-based recommendations are offered for youth program administrators and staff who wish to improve youth-adult relationships in their programs.

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