Say Goodbye to the Deficit Model

Imagine this scenario: You go into your boss’s office for a performance review, and he or she confirms you’re doing a great job.


Not because of your strong work ethic or your brilliant project management skills, but because you haven’t gotten into an argument with a customer. You weren’t late to the office. And you did not embezzle funds from the company.

Sounds crazy, right?

Yet that’s exactly how much of society judges children…by the negatives.

Think about it. We tend to define the “good” in young people by the absence of “bad.” A child is considered to be doing well if he or she doesn’t drink or smoke, steal, or engage in unsafe sexual activity.

It’s a “deficit” model that Dr. Richard Lerner, Director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University, describes as disrespectful to young people and counterproductive.

Last week, the Sudbury Foundation’s board and staff had a great opportunity to meet with Dr. Lerner, who is a leading proponent of Positive Youth Development. He shared with us a fresh vision and vocabulary that researchers and practitioners are using to refocus the field of youth development. The approach encourages young people to build five constructive characteristics (“The 5 C’s”) that will help them to thrive:

  • Competency
    Social, academic, health, vocational knowledge
  • Connection
    Positive relationships with parents, coaches, teachers, etc.
  • Character
    A moral compass, a sense of right and wrong
  • Caring
    Sympathy and empathy
  • Confidence
    Belief in oneself

Dr. Lerner adds a sixth “C” to the mix:

  • Contribution
    Working as an active, engaged citizen

Parents, mentors, coaches, teachers and youth program staff can all enhance their relationships and work with youth by understanding and examining these concepts. You’ll be hearing more about them on our blog but, in the meantime, check out the Thrive Foundation for Youth’s Step It Up 2 Thrive website, which provides a framework and series of resources to encourage positive development in youth.

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