Foundations of Positive Youth Development

Posted: August 14, 2012 in Monday Morning Message, Youth Development

I recently ran into a former student while having coffee with a friend.  She had since graduated from college and was pursuing a career as a medical assistant.  She was telling me of the joys of living on her own, providing for herself all while enjoying her first “real job”.  It was refreshing to hear the story of how her journey into adulthood was progressing and how I had been a contributing factor.

What a special gift. 

Rarely do those of us who invest in young people have the honor of seeing how our impact and influence has affected the young people that we have invested in.  At times, we don’t know if we are really making any difference at all or if our hard work and persistent effort was really worth it all in the end.

What are the outcomes in young people that would tell us that they are well on the way to reaching their full potential?  Some of the things that probably come to mind are that they are equipped to enter the workforce and can provide for themselves, they make good choices and they value giving back to their community.   When evidence of these outcomes is present in a young person’s life, we can be reasonably confident that they are on a trajectory towards thriving.

So what can we look for in our 4-H youth today that would indicate that they are moving towards those early adult outcomes that I just mentioned?   Researcher tell us that when young people are showing signs of being caring, confident and competent people of character who connect with others and contribute to their community, they are on a good path toward reaching their full potential.  In 4-H we call these indicators the 6 Cs of thriving and they are the best indicators that what we are doing today is making a positive difference in the lives of our 4-H participants.

So if this is true (and research and practical experience tells us it is), what do our young people need right now to ensure that those early and adult outcomes are possible for our young people?  The Search Institute, the Forum for Youth Investment, the work of youth development researchers Bonnie Bernard, Richard Learner, Michelle Gambone and the late Peter Benson have all helped to identify five key areas of support and opportunity that help create an environment for our young people to pursue the thriving future we all desire for them.

These supports and opportunities are all necessary building blocks to fostering this thriving environment and are at the core of all that we do in 4-H.  They are:

  • Safety—creating an environment that is physically, culturally and emotionally safe for its participants is the cornerstone to a healthy, vibrant 4-H program.  Without safety, nothing else can effectively happen.
  • Relationship Building—an environment that fosters healthy peer-to-peer and youth/adult relationships deepens a young person’s connection to others allowing more positive influence in their lives.
  • Youth Engagement—giving opportunities for youth to have meaningful and significant roles connects them more to the program, allows for skills to be developed, their brain to grow and sparks to be discovered.  This type of engagement is characterized by adults in mentoring roles to youth.
  • Community Involvement—connecting youth to their communities helps them see beyond their own self and situation.  It allows them to identify needs in their community and utilize their talents to give back.
  • Skill Building—allows youth to develop and grow as individuals.  In 4-H, skill building focuses on helping young people discover their SPARKs or passions, developing a mindset that they can grow and learn and become better if they put their mind to it and work hard at it and teaching them how to manage the goals they have set while taking time to reflect along the way.  These areas of skill building are where you as Thrive Master Trainers have played and continue to play a significant role.

Building lives is a lot like building a good house, it takes hard work, focus, accurate measurements but most of all it takes a team of people who are committed to INTENTIONALLY creating the framework that will allow the house to be sturdy and strong.  I love building lives!  I was reminded of that the other day in the coffee shop and I am reminding you of it today.  Building a solid framework in your 4-H programs will lead to the building of solid, sturdy lives that are thriving.


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