Skip Navigation
Iowa State University Extension

Study shows caring adults are key to positive youth development

4-H and positive youth development

“As Iowa State University Extension reorganizes on campus and throughout the state, one thing that won’t change is 4-H Youth Development’s commitment to involving caring adults in the lives of Iowa kids and teens,” said Chuck Morris, director of the ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development program. That is a key factor in positive youth development, backed by research from Tufts University.

The recently released “Waves of the Future” report documents the results of the first five waves of research in the National 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development.

“Young people working and learning in partnership with caring adults -- from parents to 4-H volunteer leaders to extension staff -- is the foundation of the Iowa 4-H program’s mission,” said Keli Tallman, who leads program evaluation and research for ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development. The Tufts study provides strong evidence that young people thrive when their strengths are nurtured by caring adults and aligned with the resources for healthy development that are found in programs like 4-H.

“Over my 10-year involvement with 4-H, I have to be the most grateful for excellent leadership,” said former Humboldt County 4-H’er Michelle Terwilliger, now a pre-pharmacy student at the University of Iowa. “My leaders made a plan at the beginning of each year and made sure that we had activities, events, projects and tours that were from all different areas of 4-H. … It is because of those choices that my horizons began to broaden.”

The Tufts study is the first-ever longitudinal research measuring the characteristics of positive youth development. Researchers polled more than 4,701 fifth through ninth grade youth from 34 states involved in a variety of after-school activities to measure the impact personal and social factors were having on young people’s development. After years of research, they concluded that exposing youth to high levels of positive youth development — like those found in 4-H — will help kids develop competence, confidence, character and compassion for others. In addition, youth will have better and more sustained connections with peers and adults and will be more likely to contribute to their communities, their families and themselves.

“The potential for change and growth is a core strength of all youth,” Tallman said. “Iowa 4-H capitalizes on this strength by providing extraordinary learning experiences for children and youth to reach their full potential.”

This article appeared in June 2009 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter