The 4h Study Of Positive Youth Development

American youth, and the nation that seeks to nurture and support them, face a set of problems of historically unprecedented scope and severity that, together, limit the opportunities for active and constructive participation by young people in community life and civil society. Estimates are that 50% of American youth engage in two or more of the four major categories of risk behaviors (substance use and abuse, crime and violence, unsafe sex and teenage pregnancy and parenting, and school failure) and that 10% engage in all four sets (Dryfoos, 1990, 1998; Perkins & Borden, 2003). Moreover, since the 1980s there continues to be a strikingly alarming rate of youth poverty—involving a fifth of the children and adolescents in the United States. Rates of all of the above-noted problem behaviors are higher among poor youth (McLoyd, 1998).

It is clear, then, that American communities need to have greater access to existing effective youth-serving programs. Furthermore, given the unprecedented scope of the contemporary challenges to the healthy development of American children and adolescents, new efforts must be devised, studied and, if effective, sustained (e.g., through new social policies; Lerner, 2004). If the developmentally nurturing resources, or developmental assets, possessed by communities are integrated on behalf of youth, as identified in developmental systems theories, this potential may be realized; that is, positive development may be promoted.

The longitudinal, 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development began with youth in the fifth grade and assesses—through use of a measurement model that operationalizes the Five Cs of positive youth development (PYD) and, as well, the Sixth C of contribution—characteristics of young people theoretically believed to be key facets of PYD. The research evaluates also the impact on PYD of key ecological assets—families, communities and, in particular, community-based programs for youth—especially 4-H youth development programs.

Although the 4-H Study is designed to follow fifth graders through their adolescence and has completed its second wave of testing, at this writing the research has completed analyses only of the first wave of data collection (i.e., the 2002-2003 Wave). As such, in this chapter we summarize the cross-sectional information presently available. These data will not enable us to specify the developmental course of the Five Cs, since only change-sensitive data (e.g., data derived from longitudinal research) can do this. Accordingly, in the present chapter we evaluate the unitemporal status of the Five Cs (and thus, in regard to the model presented in Figure 18.1, appraise well-being). These analyses provide a baseline for subsequent reports of developmental change in both PYD and for the association between youth participation in community-based, youth development programs and the presence of the Cs of PYD.

We discuss findings that addresses three questions about the unitemporal patterns of covariation present within the Wave 1 4-H Study data set: (1) Is there empirical evidence for the conception that PYD may be instantiated by the Five Cs of competence, confidence, connection, character, and connection?; (2) Is there empirical evidence for the theoretically-specified relation between PYD and (a) self and context contributions and (b) lower risk behaviors?; and (3) Is there evidence that YD programs—as potentially key instances of the developmental assets present in the ecology of adolescent development—are associated with PYD, contribution, and lower risk behaviors?

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