4-H Study of Positive Youth Development

The 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development: Reconnection and Replication, funded by National 4-H Council, is a two-part study that aims to extend and replicate the original 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development (Bowers et al., 2014; Lerner et al., 2005, 2015) that took place between 2002-2012.

The original 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development involved over 7,000 youth across Grades 5 to 12 from 42 states. The main findings indicated that when PYD—defined as Competence, Confidence, Connection, Caring, and Character—was promoted by youth development programs, youth would contribute positively to their communities and, by the end of the high-school years, become active and engaged citizens. The study also identified three key facets of youth programs effective in promoting PYD, facets that are hallmarks of the 4-H Theory of Change: 1. Positive and sustained relationships between a young person and an adult; 2. Life-skill building activities; and 3. Opportunities for youth participation in and leadership of valued activities in family, school, or community settings (see also Lerner, 2004; Tirrell et al., 2020). Across more than 100 publications and even more talks around the nation and world, Drs. Richard Lerner and Jacqueline Lerner and their students explained that 4-H was an exemplary youth program that transformed PYD into contributions vital for enhancing families, communities, and, ultimately, the institutions of civil society and democracy. They predicted that, as adults, 4-H youth would become leaders of a vibrant America.

The Reconnection Study reconnects with participants from the original study, who are now young adults, to explore whether this prediction came true. The Reconnection Study aims to connect with as many of the original 4-H (n = 2,500) and non-4-H participants (n = 4,000) as possible in order to learn about the contributions to society that they are making as young adults today. Using both quantitative (i.e., survey) and qualitative (i.e., semi-structured interview) methods, we are examining these young adults’ work activities, health and well-being, purpose, and, especially, their family, community, and national contributions and civic engagement. By doing so, we will be able to link the follow-up survey data with the data collected in the original 4-H Study of PYD to explore participants’ developmental trajectories.

In addition to the Reconnection Study, we are conducting an accelerated longitudinal Replication Study to extend the youth-development leadership of 4-H programs to the current generations of American youth. The Replication Study includes youth from Grades 6 to 12 from across the United States. In addition to using measures and constructs that were used in the original study, we are capitalizing on refinements of measurement that have occurred in the last decade in regard to indexing constructs central to the original 4-H Study of PYD (i.e., PYD and, as well, intentional self-regulation, hope for the future, contribution and civic engagement, and leadership). We plan to assess the paths of PYD from Grades 6 to 12 of both youth participating in 4-H currently and youth currently not involved in 4-H.

Project Updates

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