Abstract This study examined how parental rural-to-urban migration may affect left-behind children's development in rural China. We used two-wave data collected on 864 rural youth age 10–17 years in the Guangxi Province, China in 2010. We tested psychometric properties of a positive youth development (PYD) model theorized and corroborated in the US, compared a range of developmental outcomes among rural youth by their parental migration status, and explored the mediating role of family economic and social resources in observed associations between developmental outcomes and parental migration. The results showed the PYD model had some international validity although modifications would be needed to make it more suitable to Chinese settings. Little difference in the PYD outcomes was detected by parental migration status. On other outcomes (i.e., self-rated health, school grades, educational aspirations, problem behavior), positive influences of parental migration were observed. Increased income but not social resources in migrant families helped explain some of these patterns. The take-home message from this study is that parental migration is not necessarily an injurious situation for youth development. To advance our knowledge about the developmental significance of parental migration for rural Chinese youth, we urgently need large-scale representative surveys to collect comprehensive and longitudinal information about rural children’s developmental trajectories and their multilevel social contexts to identify key resources of PYD in order to better help migrant and non-migrant families nurture thriving youth in rural China.