The Five Cs Model of Positive Youth Development

The Five Cs Model of Positive Youth Development (PYD) is a framework for PYD that outlines five psychological, behavioral, and social characteristics that indicate youth are thriving and, when high levels of the Five Cs develop, ultimately result in a Sixth C related to contributing to self, community, and society. Based on almost three decades of developmental science, the Five Cs Model of PYD is one of the most commonly accepted theories of PYD today. The model focuses on the positive characteristics that enable adolescents to lead productive and healthy lives and contribute to the world in ways that benefit themselves, their families and communities, and civil society.

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The Five Cs Model of…competenceconfidenceconnectioncharactercaring/compassioncontribution

Breakdown by Domain

Domain Key


Key Features

Context & Culture

  • Embraces a Relational-Developmental-Systems approach to PYD that emphasizes the mutually influential relationship between individuals and their context
  • Research indicates that individuals (e.g., parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, faith leaders); institutions (e.g., OST programs, parks, libraries); youth-adult collaboration in family, school, community activities; and access (e.g., transportation, safety) all contribute to promoting PYD
  • Scholars recommend continued research to examine how PYD occurs in the full array of settings where youth spend time, including workplace and religious activities

Developmental Perspective

  • Research suggests that PYD (as conceptualized by the Five Cs) tends to remain stable across much of adolescence (grades 5-12), but many youth increased their level of contribution (Sixth C) across grades
  • No learning progression provided

Associated Outcomes

  • Findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development show that higher scores on PYD (as conceptualized by the Five Cs) are generally associated with lower risk/problem behaviors, such as bullying, substance use, delinquency, and depression; however, this relationship is nuanced and complex and high levels of the Five Cs and the presence of problem behaviors can co-occur
  • Some studies have sought to examine the relationship between the individual Cs and various problem/risk behaviors (see Bowers et al., 2015)

Available Resources

Support Materials

  • Many articles have been written about the Five Cs Model of PYD and several studies have been conducted using the model (please see reference section for a key sample)
  • The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development provides empirical support for the Five C's Model of PYD by offering insight into what constitutes PYD and which individual and contextual factors contribute to adolescent thriving (see Lerner & Lerner, 2013; Bowers et al., 2014; Bowers et al., 2015)
  • Recent articles examine the methodological challenges associated with researching and measuring PYD within a Relational-Developmental-Systems frame and offer recommendations and future directions for design and measurement (see Lerner et al., 2015)

Programs & Strategies

  • Many PYD programs around the world use the Five Cs as a guiding framework and/or consist of activities that promote one or more of the Five Cs (for specific examples, see Lerner, Lerner, Bowers & Geldhoff, 2015)
  • Outlines the "Big Three" features of effective PYD programs that promote the Five Cs: positive and sustained adult-youth relationships, activities that build life skills, and opportunities for youth to use those skills in the community (see Lerner et al., 2013)

Measurement Tools

  • Three versions of the Positive Youth Development measure, a student questionnaire that assesses the Five Cs of PYD, are available upon request and have been distributed to hundreds of programs and researchers around the world: the full PYD measure (83 items), the Short Form (34 items), and the Very Short Form (17 items)
  • A student questionnaire (12 items) that assess the Sixth C (contribution) is also available upon request

Key Publications

  • Lerner, R. M. (2005, September). Promoting positive youth development: Theoretical and empirical bases. Washington, D.C.: National Academies of Science. Retrieved from:
  • Zarrett, N., & Lerner, R. M. (2008). Ways to promote the positive development of children and youth. Child Trends, 11(1), 1-5. Retrieved from:
  • Lerner, R.M., & Lerner, J.V. (2013). The Positive development of youth: Comprehensive findings from the 4-H study of positive youth development. Retrieved from:
  • Bowers, E. P., Geldhof, G. J., Johnson, S., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (Eds.). (2014). Thriving across the adolescent years: Lessons learned from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(6). Retrieved from:
  • Bowers, E. P., Geldhof, G. J., Johnson, S. K., Hilliard, L. J., Hershberg, R. M., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (Eds.). (2015). Promoting positive youth development: Lessons from the 4-H study. Springer.
  • Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. V., P. Bowers, E., & John Geldhof, G. (2015). Positive youth development and relational_developmental_systems. Handbook of child psychology and developmental science, 1-45. Retrieved from:
  • Lerner, R. M., Lerner, J. V., Almerigi, J., Theokas, C., Phelps, E., Gestsd—ttir, S. Naudeau, S., Jelicic, H., Alberts, A. E., Ma, L., Smith, L. M., Bobek, D. L., Richman-Raphael, D., Simpson, I., Christiansen, E. D., & von Eye, A. (2005). Positive youth development, participation in community youth development programs, and community contributions of fifth grade adolescents: Findings from the first wave of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25(1), 17-71.
  • Phelps, E., Zimmerman, S., Warren, A. A., Jelicic, H., von Eye, A. & Lerner, R. M. (2009). The structure and developmental course of positive youth development (PYD) in early adolescence: Implications for theory and practice. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(5), 571-584.
  • Bowers, E. P., Li, Y., Kiely, M. K., Brittian, A., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2010). The Five Cs model of positive youth development: A longitudinal analysis of confirmatory factor structure and measurement invariance. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 39, 720-735.
  • Geldhof, G. J., Bowers, E. P., Boyd, M. J., Mueller, M., Napolitano, C. M., Schmid, K. L., Lerner, J. V., & Lerner, R. M. (2014). The creation and validation of short and very short measures of PYD. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 24, 163-176.
  • Geldhof, G. J., Bowers, E. P., Mueller, M. K., Napolitano, C. M., Callina, K. S., & Lerner, R. M. (2014). Longitudinal analysis of a very short measure of positive youth development. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43, 933-949.

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