Youth empowerment

Youth empowerment approaches involve adult-youth partnerships and a democratic decision-making process.1,2 Youth empowerment approaches include strategies which give young people opportunities for meaningful involvement and participation in their education or support services. Peer-based programs may empower youth through providing involvement opportunities, access to positive role models, knowledge and skills development and/or building a sense of personal agency or self efficacy.

Involvement opportunities:

  • Provide social roles which give meaning and purpose to young people’s lives e.g. as peer supporters, peer educators or peer leaders
  • Providing a vehicle for changing negative social stereotypes, ethnic controls, and/or legislation affecting the freedom and rights of group members.

Access to positive role models:

  • Exposure to peers who are positive role models and who have shown resilience in the face of adversity.

Knowledge and skills development:

  • Education and knowledge to help self and others
  • Providing the knowledge and skills they need to avoid risk or problem behaviours
  • Developing positive coping skills and problem solving skills
  • Providing a safe environment to learn and practise life skills
  • Raising awareness of support available and developing skills to access support when needed
  • Being offered alongside other support services e.g. co-located youth services model.

Sense of personal agency/self efficacy:

  • Providing suggestions and alternatives and outlining implications, rather than telling young people how to behave
  • Providing opportunities to experience a sense of mastery or accomplishment on rising to a challenge
  • Helping young people identify their strengths and personal potential
  • Increasing confidence and developing a sense of personal agency to influence own future.

Participating in peer-based programs appears to be associated with the development of important assets:

  • Increased self esteem and confidence through helping others and being asked for help
  • Increased awareness of personal strengths and potential
  • Work experience and life skills
  • Increased self-efficacy and belief in personal ability to access help/help others.

It is notable that many of the themes within youth empowerment are consistent with theories which have already been discussed. These include role modeling and personal agency (Social Cognitive Theory) and the development of a positive self concept and meaningful roles (Social Identity Theory).


  1. Hart, R., A. (1992). Children’s participation – From Tokenism to Citizenship. Florence, United Nations Children’s Funds.
  2. Mueller, R., J. Wunrow, et al. (2000). “Providing youth services through youth-adult partnerships: A review of the literature. .” Reaching Today’s Youth 4: 37-48.