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Thriving and Civic Engagement Among America's Youth

232 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
In this unique and groundbreaking work, Richard M. Lerner brings his formidable knowledge of developmental systems theory and facts on youth development to analyze the meaning of a thriving civil society and its relationship to the potential of youth for self-actualization and positive development. In the process, he vividly captures the relationship of positive and successful human development to the viability of democratic institutions at a key transition point in U.S. history in the wake of 9/11. Lerner posits that optimal individual development is enabled by a civil society that supports the rights of the individual to develop his or her abilities as best he or she can, and in ways valued by the person, and that in human life, integrated moral and civic identity may emerge prototypically in adolescence, when the person's self-definition is undergoing significant and singular changes. He explores several key characteristics of positive development (competence, character, confidence, social connections, and compassion) that coalesce to create a young person who is developing successfully towards an "ideal" adulthood, one marked by contributions to self, family, community, and the institutions of civil society. He closes by exploring implications for policies and programs involving the promotion of positive youth and family development that will support the institutions of liberty, social justice, and democracy.
Ralph Smith, The Annie E. Casey Foundation
1. Ideals and Human Development
2. Evolution and the Emergence of Liberty
3. Social Relationships and Human Development
4. Developmental Theory as a Frame for Understanding Liberty
5. On the Nature of Thriving
6. Programs Promoting Positive Youth Development and Civil Society
7. Policies Promoting Positive Youth Development and Civil Society
Name Index
Subject Index
About the Author

“Liberty is a bold and courageous work from one of America’s most eminent psychologists. With its groundbreaking integration of theory and research, it offers vision, hope, and most importantly, a call-to-action. How we respond has mighty implications for America’s future.”


Peter L. Benson, Ph.D.
President, Search Institute, Minneapolis

"A great work, the theme is so timely, and the subject is right on target. Professor Lerner connects with our humanity. . . and has produced a book of intelligence, balance, and hope. Without any reservations, this is a much-needed work of the highest thinking for a civil society. . . . I truly enjoyed this book, it read well and was very compelling, filled with insight. I would use this book in both my undergraduate policy course and graduate classes. . . a special endeavor by a truly amazing scholar."  

Carl S. Taylor
Michigan State University

"A wonderfully ambitious, scholarly, heartfelt, patriotic work. . . has the promise to be a widely read, quoted, and controversial book. In this project Lerner brings to bear his formidable knowledge of and previous significant conceptual contributions to facts and theory on youth development and developmental systems theory on the interrelationships among evolutionary systems theory, contextualism, individual development, spirituality, and moral development as they produce a civil society. . . .The content is excellent and extensive. . . . The book is beautifully written. . . and illustrates how developmental theory actually works in the real world. . . . Lerner is an internationally recognized scholar whose books are widely read and cited throughout the world. . . .I would highly recommend this book."  

Celia B. Fisher
Fordham University

"As the author points out, this is certainly a critical moment in American and world history for assessing and reassessing the meaning of liberty and the implications for human development, and youth development in particular. . . . This is a wonderful book which addresses a dimension of the human experience - the relationship of positive/successful human development to the viability of democratic institutions. . . .  excellent chapters on youth policy and practice. The author's style, level and coverage are suitable to an audience of students (graduate and undergraduate), developmental scholars, and researchers for whom this will be an invigorating and highly original contribution to understanding the intersection of human development and a civil society. . . . Without question, this book will be a valuable resource for a whole range of scholars who address the topics of human development and civil society as well as being a useful text for students."  

Lawrence B. Schiamberg
Michigan State University

"The idea of this book is timely, creative, imaginative, and brilliant. . . . The book is extremely well written, as is everything Lerner writes. It is accessible and at the same time scholarly. . . . Its strengths lie in Lerner’s passionate and optimistic approach to American youth. This is not a group with negative traits, but rather one with positive attributes that can be nurtured into caring and productive citizens. . . . Richard Lerner has written a book which shows how his important ideas about behavioral development have application beyond the ivory tower of the university - to society at large."  

Gary Greenberg
Wichita State University

"Especially helpful to youth professionals and those within the field of developmental psychology, the text is research-based and interspersed with helpful graphics and charts."


"Renowned developmentalist Richard Lerner tells us, in the preface to Liberty, that in the despair he experienced after September 11, 2001, he saw no hope for society or humanity, and thus no basis for continuing his professional work. ... Fortunately for developing youth and for the field of developmental psychology, Lerner has found reasons and ways to continue his work. By respecting the freedom of those youth, society fosters their development, including their developing commitment to the society that respects their freedom. ... The theoretical basis for Lerner's work is developmental systems theory. ... Developing individuals, moreover, are deemed to be active agents who seek out and interpret experiences and thus play major roles in their own development."

David Moshman
University of Nebraska

"This small paperback book (203 pages) is a tour de force in its summary of developmental theory and research. In opening chapters Lerner reviews developmental systems theory, evolutionary theory and genetics, the goodness of fit model, and developmental contextualism. His overall approach is also grounded in a life-span or life-course perspective that also carries ideas of lifelong plasticity and developmental embeddedness. Lerner’s most overarching theoretical orientation, however, is the focus on positive youth development (PYD). 

What is most impressive is Lerner’s ability to integrate these various and somewhat disparate views on development so as to analyze and explicate liberty. His basic argument is that for youth to thrive (or live up to their full potential), society must support the rights of young people to develop their abilities to the fullest extent.  A civil society or democracy that supports freedom and social justice can only exist if that society supports and protects social institutions that afford liberty to all citizens, including youth and including the promotion of their positive development into engaged participants in that society.

Lerner’s argument in Liberty is that 'good youth policy is what we must do if we are to survive as a civil society;' it is as important to maintaining democracy as wars in non-democratic countries such as Iraq, as working through the United Nations to promote democracy worldwide, and as other macro-political venues that countries such as the U.S. pursue to ensure our democracy."  

Lonnie Sherrod
Fordham University

Really excellent supplemental reading offering support for current literature in a different setting. The top students will appreciate the content and use it accordingly.

Mr Ian Sherwin
Physical Education & Sports Sciences, University of Limerick
March 20, 2014

Richard M. Lerner

Richard M. Lerner is the Bergstrom Chair in Applied Developmental Science and the Director of the Applied Developmental Science Institute in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts University. A developmental psychologist, Lerner received a Ph.D. in 1971 from the City University of New York. He has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Association, and American Psychological Society. Prior to joining Tufts University, he held administrative posts at Michigan State University, Pennsylvania... More About Author

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