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THE 4-H STUDY OF POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT. Jacqueline V. Lerner Boston College and Christina Theokas Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development Tufts University. Background and Significance. A New Perspective About Youth. Scientists, practitioners, and educators agree:

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the 4 h study of positive youth development


Jacqueline V. Lerner

Boston College


Christina Theokas

Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development

Tufts University

a new perspective about youth
A New Perspective About Youth

Scientists, practitioners, and educators agree:

  • Youth are resources to be developed; they are not problems to be managed.
  • This vision replaces the traditional deficit model of children and adolescents which is a model of disease and prevention. In the deficit view, people see children as broken or as destined to be broken and feel that they need to fix them or prevent these problems from occurring.
  • Prevention is not promotion
  • Problem free is not prepared
  • Prepared is not engaged
the positive youth development perspective
The Positive Youth Development Perspective
  • All children have strengths
  • All families, school, and communities have assets –or the “nutrients” or “building blocks” of healthy, positive development
  • Aligning – creating a good fit – between child strengths and ecological assets will promote positive youth development
attributes of positive youth development
Attributes of PositiveYouth Development:


  • Competence
  • Confidence
  • Connection
  • Character
  • Caring



Positive Youth Development Happens in Context











Risk behaviors




One Community Asset for the Promotion of Positive Development:

Effective Youth Serving Programs

the big three features of effective youth development programs
The “Big Three” Features of Effective Youth Development Programs*
  • Positive, sustained adult-youth relationships
  • Skill-building activities for youth
  • Youth participation and leadership in every facet of the program

Lerner, R.M. (2004). Liberty: Thriving and civic engagement among America’s youth.


“Time spent in youth programs was the developmental asset that appeared to have the most pervasive positive influence…predicting…thriving outcomes…Good youth programs provide young people with access to caring adults and responsible peers, as well as skill-building activities that can reinforce the values and skills that are associated with doing well in school and maintaining good physical health.”

Note: This conclusion comes from a study of about 100,000 diverse youth in grades 6-12 from across the United States. (Scales, Benson, Leffert, and Blyth, Applied Developmental Science, 2000)

goals and research questions
Goals and Research Questions

Goal # 1:To advance the understanding of the nature of positive youth development.


  • Is the model of PYD -- as represented by the five Cs – useful and able to be empirically validated?
  • What characteristics of youth in combination with what family and community characteristics are related to the five Cs?
goals and research questions13
Goals and Research Questions

Goal # 2:To study the impact of community-based youth development programs, specifically 4-H and HealthRocks! as a particular 4-H program, on children and youth.


  • What is the role of these programs as a means to promote PYD?
  • Do characteristics of the youth, family, or community impact the role of youth development programs?
research design14
Research Design
  • Pilot
    • Develop a good measurement model of the Five Cs.
  • Wave 1: 2002-2003 (5th grade)
    • Recruit a national, diverse sample.
    • Assess initial levels of PYD, risk behaviors, and assets.
  • Wave 2: 2003-2004 (6th grade)
    • Evaluate changes in PYD, risk behaviors, and assets.
  • Wave 3: 2004-2005 (7th grade)
    • Continue to evaluate changes in PYD, risks behaviors, and assets.
    • Determine the impact of youth development programs.
study participants
Study Participants

Wave Iparticipants of the 4-H Study are a diverse group of about 1,700 fifth grade adolescents and approximately 1,200 of their parents. The sample socioeconomic status, family structure, rural-urban location, and geographic region of the United States.


Males: 47.9% Females: 52.1%


Native American: 4.1% Asian American: 3.3%

African American: 8.1% Hispanic: 18.0%

European American: 57.9% Multi-ethnic/Multi-racial: 5.7%

Other: 3.0%

Youth and parents come from the following states:

Northeast: MA, NY Mid-Atlantic: MD

Southeast: AL, FL, NC Mid-West: WI, TN, MO, MN

Northwest: WA, MT Southwest: AZ

the student questionnaire
The Student Questionnaire
  • More than 300 questions!
  • Demographic questions
    • About them, their household, the time they have lived in their neighborhood, etc.
  • Future Goals and Expectations
  • Activity Participation
    • School clubs, sports, lessons, after-school programs
  • Relationships with parents, friends, other adults
  • Involvement in positive behaviors
  • Involvement in risky behaviors
measurement of contribution
Measurement of Contribution

Two Components

  • Ideology of Contribution: In response to open ended questions, youth indicate a commitment to giving back to the world around them.
  • Participation in activities that reflect active engagement with the world around oneself such as: being a leader in a group, helping friends and neighbors, participation in school government, sports, religious youth groups and volunteering in the community
validation of empirical bases of the five cs
Validation of Empirical Bases of the Five Cs
  • Using LISREL 8.54, a confirmatory factor analysis of the measures produced the first empirical evidence for the presence of the Five Cs and their combined relationship to form a second order latent construct of PYD
  • Fit indices indicated that the model provided good fit to the data:
    • X2= 552, d.f. = 134
    • RMSEA = 0.043
    • CFI = 0.99
    • GFI = 0.97
the five cs and individual and family variables
The Five Cs and Individual and Family Variables
  • Girls’ scores on:

Competence, Connection, Character and Caring were higher than those of boys

  • European American and Latino youth reported greater Confidence
  • Household income was positive related to:

Competence, Confidence, Connection and Character

contribution the five cs and individual and family variables
Contribution, the Five Cs and Individual and Family Variables
  • Girls scores are higher on Contribution
  • Race/ethnicity was not related to contribution
  • Family income was negatively related to contribution
  • PYD is significantly related to contribution
    • Of the individual Cs: Character and Competence most strongly predict Contribution
how about 4 h program participation
How about 4-H Program Participation?
  • 4-H Program Participation is not significantly related to higher PYD scores
  • However 4-H program participation contributes significantly to higher Contribution scores
what about healthrocks
What about HealthRocks!
  • Similarly, youth who have received Health Rocks! do not show higher PYD scores.
  • However, incidence of smoking is less!
the key question does 4 h promote positive development
THE KEY QUESTION:Does 4-H promote positive development?
  • Point-in-time analyses (e.g., analyses of wave1 data) cannot answer this question
  • ONLY longitudinal analyses can answer this question
  • Therefore, what do the longitudinal data tell us about whether 4-H and HR! protects and promotes?
4 h participation and pyd
4-H Participation and PYD


4-H Participants

summary of findings
Summary of Findings
  • The positive vision and vocabulary of youth practitioners and developmental researchers has been validated and can be empirically studied
  • 4-H, even in very young youth, is having a positive impact on youth contribution to self, family, and community
  • HR! is associated with a low incidence of youth smoking
future steps
Future Steps
  • Examine developmental changes in the Five Cs; that is, what is the course of PYD through puberty and into the higher risk adolescent years?
  • Introduce additional contextual variables and diversity into the analyses to better understand what conditions promote positive development
  • Gain a more nuanced view of the relationship between 4-H and HR!, PYD, and youth contributions, that is, how and in what ways does program participation help?