Extension News

Study Shows Caring Adults Are Key to Positive Youth Development


AMES, Iowa – “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 five years of 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. The complete report is available online at http://4-h.org/d/Pages/Layouts/GroupPageedc5.html.

“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.”

“There was never a time that I felt left out. I was included and it felt good,” added Jackson County 4-H’er Faith Till. “I was growing more and more confident each day. … I also saw myself turning into a role model for the younger members.”

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 research shows that young people’s potential for development is not set in stone, Tallman said. Their development can be significantly influenced by factors in their homes, schools and communities.

“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.”

The Tufts study confirms that youth involved in 4-H are more civically active and make more community and civic contributions than youth who participate in other out-of-school activities, Tallman said.

Other results from the Tufts study include the following:

• Youth who participated in 4-H sometime during fifth through ninth grade were significantly more likely than youth in other out-of-school-time programs to demonstrate competence, confidence, character and compassion for others. They also were more likely to contribute to their communities, their families and themselves.

• Fifth through ninth grade 4-H youth were less likely to show symptoms of depression or to exhibit risky or delinquent behaviors than were youth in other out-of-school-time programs.

• Ninth grade 4-H youth were better able to set goals, overcome obstacles and achieve their goals than were those who had not participated in 4-H.

• Ninth grade 4-H youth had higher grades, were more behaviorally and emotionally engaged in school, and were more likely to see themselves going to college as compared with those who had not participated in 4-H.

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, serving more than 6 million young people across America who are learning leadership, citizenship and life skills. One quarter of Iowa’s young people are involved in 4-H. In Iowa, 4-H Youth Development is headquartered at the Iowa State University campus in Ames. For more information about joining 4-H, contact your Iowa State University Extension county office.


Contacts :
Keli Tallman, 4-H Youth Development, (515) 294-0688, ktallman@iastate.edu

Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu