Safety Matters-Part 1 of the What Matters in Positive Youth Development Series

Posted: February 14, 2014 in Monday Morning Message

“I’m never coming here again!”  This was Rebecca’s first year at the conference and given what she just endured, I imagined it would What Mattersbe her last.  The conference had a tradition that when a young person forgot a notebook or pen or their cell phone went off, they were called to the front of the room and made to sing for the entire group.  In Rebecca’s case, she wasn’t going to comply and with the support of an adult who put her safety above the tradition, made the decision to take Rebecca home.  Creating an environment of physical, emotional and cultural safety at our 4-H events is paramount to creating an environment for youth to reach their full potential. 

In the true account above which happened at a recent 4-H event, a tradition that had gone on for many years was in direct opposition to one of the 4-H foundational youth development practices.  Understandably, this tradition was most likely born out of a fun, creative attempt to enforce policies at this particular event and was not done with the idea of causing intentional harm to anyone.  Nevertheless, whether intentional or not, the damage was done and at least in the case of Rebecca, this experience left her with a bad memory and distrust.

Making sure that our 4-H environments are emotionally, physically and culturally safe is the most significant foundational practice that helps our 4-H youth reach their full potential.If a youth doesn’t feel safe, he/she will not be able to be themselves and venture into making healthy relationships with others. If a youth does not feel that the environment that they are in is safe, they will not take healthy risks nor volunteer for meaningful roles because of a “what if I fail?” attitude.  If safety is not present a young person’s focus will not be on the world around them or on building their own skills because they will be focused on how to survive instead of how to thrive.

As you reflect on creating a safe 4-H environment, here are some things to consider:

  • Do your meetings, events and activities have INTENTIONAL opportunities to build safety?

a.What actions are we currently doing that do promote safety?

b.What traditions or rituals is your group currently practicing that may not promote an atmosphere of safety?

  • How do you INTENTIONALLY plan for making new 4-H members feel welcome?    
  • How can you engage your youth leadership in creating and promoting a safe environment?

Making sure that a youth member is walking into an environment where they feel safe to be themselves, develop friendships and discover who they are and how they can make a difference in the world around them is a powerful foundation to build our 4-H program and why safety matters.

Food for Thought:

Check out the YouTube video here of Sci Academy in New Orleans and pay attention between time segment 1:13 – 2:30 to discover what this school does, every single day, to create safety at their school.  Wouldn’t it be great if all 4-H youth were welcomed to their club meetings, project meetings, their camp programs, etc. like this?  How do you think our kids would feel if we had an expectation that our youth are valued enough to be personally greeted by someone-a senior youth member, an adult-at every event.


I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and would love for you to share your comments on this article.  You can do this by going to our Blog and share your comments at the bottom of the article.


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