Methods of the 4H Study

In the first wave of the 4-H Study, we secured cooperation from sites in 40 cities or towns located in 13 states that, together, provided regional, rural-urban, racial/ethnic, and religious variation. In turn, in order to identify the association between community-based YD programs and PYD, we sought also to develop a sample that would reflect variation of youth participation in such organizations and in other types of school- and community-based youth activities (i.e., in programs that did not have a youth development mission or in individually focused youth activities). We sampled also youth who were not involved in any individual or group activity.


Given our interest in ascertaining if PYD varies positively with the development of contribution and negatively with the appearance of risk behaviors and internalizing problems, and if youth development programs promote PYD and prevent or delay the emergence of problem behaviors and/or slow their growth, the study was launched with fifth graders in order to obtain baseline levels of behaviors from which to measure change over time. The literature shows that one may expect low levels of risk among youth of this grade level (e.g., Dryfoos, 1990; Perkins & Borden, 2003).

Accordingly, Wave 1 youth participants were a diverse group of 1,700 fifth grade adolescents (47.2% males; mean age = 11.1 years, SD = .53 years; 52.8% females, mean age = 10.9 years, SD = .46 years) and 1,117 of their parents (82.5% mothers, mean age = 38.4 years, SD = 6.8 years; 13.9% fathers, mean age = 41.6 years, SD = 6.2 years; only one parent per student was sampled). Other adults who completed the survey were grandparents 1.3%, other adults .4%, stepmothers .4%, stepfathers .2%, and foster parents .2%. The remaining 1.2% of adults did not specify their relation to the child. The overall rate of parent (or other adult) participation was 65.7%. The sample was predominantly Catholic (50.0%) or Protestant (18.7%); educated (more than 67% of the sample had at least some college education); from families with two, married parents (73.5%); European American (57.9%), and at least middle income (e.g., 58.8% of the youth lived in families that reported incomes of at least $45,000 a year). Complete details about the demographic characteristics of the participants and their families are presented in Lerner et al., 2005.

Study Sites

Wave 1 data were collected in 57 schools and in four after school programs. The schools varied in type (public/private), size, grades and students served, and along various socioeconomic characteristics (e.g., percent students eligible for free or reduced lunch). Moreover, the schools were distributed fairly evenly across four regions of the country: Northeast, North Central, South, and West. The four after school programs were located in diverse urban communities, and served primarily minority and low-income children and families.


The measurement model used to initiate this study was designed to provide indices of the six Cs of PYD, of risks and problem behaviors, of the purported individual and ecological assets theoretically linked to the development of the Cs, and of the diminution of problem behaviors among youth. To index constructs related to developmental assets we relied on the Search Institute PSL-AB survey (Benson, 1997, 2003; Benson et al., 1998). Given the person — context systems model framing our approach to the study of adolescence, we also attempted to assess the regulation of mutually influential relations between youth and their contexts. This assessment included both indices of current regulatory functioning and goal oriented behaviors. The key measure used here was the Selection, Optimization, and Compensation (SOC) questionnaire (Freund & Baltes, 2002; Freund, Li, & Baltes, 1999)

In addition to standard demographic questions about youth and their families (sex, date of birth, race/ethnicity, household composition, number of years in current neighborhood, and time spent without an adult present), items were also included to assess youth participation in activities and involvement with community-based organizations. Finally, given that pubertal variation and ego development have been linked repeatedly within the adolescent literature to a range of positive and problem behaviors in adolescence (Nurmi, 2004; Susman & Rogol, 2004), we assessed these constructs for exploratory purposes.

Our measures were embedded in one of two questionnaires. A Student Questionnaire (SQ) was composed of measures pertinent to the Cs of PYD, problem behaviors, pubertal level of development, individual and ecological assets, developmental regulation, activities, and demographics. One parent/guardian per youth participant was asked to complete the Parent Questionnaire (PQ) for each child participating in the study. The PQ was composed of two types of items: (1) Items about the parent/guardian and (2) items about the child. Items about the parent/guardian included relationship to the child; age; sex; current marital status; race/ethnicity; religion; health status; education level; mother's education level (if the person completing the survey was not the mother); number of years spent in their current neighborhood; SES; number of children in the household; number of people in the household; primary language spoken in the household; and importance of religion in the participant's family life.

Items about the child included: birth date; birth order; height; weight; race/ethnicity; religion; hours of sleep per night; and clubs, groups, and activities in which the child participated in, both now and in the past. The list of options for these activities included: 4-H Clubs, Boys Clubs/Girls Clubs, YMCA/YWCA, Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts, Big Brother/Big Sister, religious youth groups, school band, martial arts, acting/drama, dance, music, arts/crafts, academic clubs, school government, religious education, sports, after-school child care programs, volunteer work, paid work, mentoring/peer advising, tutoring, and others. Many of these items were included in the PQ in order to cross-validate the information provided by the child.

Tables 18.2 and 18.3 present the measures included in the SQ and the PQ, respectively. Across the questionnaires, measures were combined to provide indices of the latent constructs on interest in the 4-H Study (e.g., the Five Cs, PYD). As explained below, this combination was an iterative process, as we sought to use our data set to identify a measurement model of the latent constructs that maximized

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