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Extension > Youth Development > Research > Theory & framework > Keys to Quality Youth Development

Keys to Quality Youth Development

Produced by Extension: Patricia Almquist, Barbara Brekke, Sara R. Croymans, Kari Fruechte, Mary Matlack, Betty McAndrews, Patricia Morreim, Jolie Ogg-Graybill, Barbara Piehl, Joyce Walker and Tom Zurcher

"Hands-on activities, appropriate adult mentors and community service ..."

Youth development, the process of growing up and developing oneís capacities, happens no matter what we do. The challenge is to promote positive youth development and plan quality experiences with young people.

It would be nice if there was a drive-through window where you could order the positive aspects of youth development when planning a program. But it takes active involvement and careful planning to fill the order. KEYS to Quality Youth Development encourages you to plan and prepare a complete menu for positive youth development.

This guide is a working tool to stimulate, challenge, and encourage youth and adults as they work together to plan, conduct, and evaluate quality experiences. Whether you are a parent, teacher, volunteer, youth development professional, or teenager, this planning guide will help you work with youth. How you choose to use it will depend on the situation and the desired outcomes.

"This piece of work has changed the way I approach teaching."-fifth grade teacher

"Positive spin on the value of youth."-Extension educator

"Documented what effective adult mentors for youth had felt all along, but gave it a research base."-youth leader

Learning experiences are more powerful when tied to one or more of the keys of positive youth development. Carefully look at the time you spend with young people. Are you reinforcing these keys? Are you helping the young people build developmental assets? How can you strengthen these experiences? Use the KEYS to Quality Youth Development in the design, delivery, and evaluation of your positive youth development programs.

The Eight Keys:

Gisela Konopka (1973) and Karen Pittman (1991) identified critical elements essential to the healthy development of young people. Youth and adults will benefit from experiences providing some or all of these elements.

1. Youth Feel Physically and Emotionally Safe

2. Youth Experience Belonging and Ownership

3. Youth Develop Self-Worth

4. Youth Discover Self

5. Youth Develop Quality Relationships with Peers and Adults

6. Youth Discuss Conflicting Values and Form Their Own

7. Youth Feel the Pride and Accountability that Comes with Mastery

8. Youth Expand Their Capacity to Enjoy Life and Know that Success Is Possible

In this guide, the discussion of each key includes:

"It just plain made sense." -teen volunteer

Good asset building tool for youth and adults working together." -volunteer leader

"It soon became apparent to the young adults I was teaching that I cared more about them than my lesson. The result is that they are more willing to share with me." -nutrition education assistant

Keys For Kids

"Keys for Kids" is adapted from the publication Training Trainers to Teach, and is used with permission from the National 4-H Council

Youth Feel Physically and Emotionally Safe

Premise

Young people will learn better and participate more fully when they feel physically and emotionally safe. This environment encourages honesty, trust, and respect among all youth and adults.

Building a Foundation

Boundaries and Expectations

 

Selecting Outcomes

Boundaries and expectations let young people know what to expect from others and what others expect from them. The Search Institute identifies important examples:
Safety - Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood.
Family boundaries - Family has clear rules and consequences and monitors the young personís whereabouts.
School boundaries - School provides clear rules and consequences.
Neighborhood boundaries - Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young peopleís behavior.
Adult role models - Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.
Positive peer influence - Young personís best friends model responsible behavior.
What will be done in your program to make sure youth -
  • are physically safe?
  • feel emotionally safe?
  • work together with adults to establish rules and consequences of violating rules?
  • understand how conflicts will be resolved and disrespectful behavior (bullying, name calling) will be handled?
  • will be respected by adults and other youth?
  • see consistency from adults?
  • experience both structure and flexibility?
  • have access to the program in terms of time of day, location, cost, and transportation?

Identifying Practices

How It Works

Elisha is a 10-year-old who is small for her age and lags behind her classmates in physical skills. In school and on the playground she is a target for teasing and bullying.
Elisha joined a local 4-H club this year, as her parents wanted to get her involved in building personal skills and capitalize on her interests and skills with the computer. At first, Elisha was reluctant to be involved, but youth and adults welcomed her and included her in activities. She said to her mother, "I was really afraid the kids would pick on me like at school, but they donít! Everyone is my friend!"
Elisha continues to be involved with the club, and offers to be on committees. She enthusiastically created computer graphics for a club display and helped put the display in a downtown business window. At a local Chamber of Commerce meeting, Elisha was recognized for her computer expertise with the project.

Things To Think About

Words Of Wisdom

"Kids can walk around trouble, if there is some place to walk to and someone to walk with." Tito, Urban Sanctuaries, p. 219.

Questions For Youth

Youth Experience Belonging and Ownership

Premise

Youth feel included and motivated. They have significant roles as participants and leaders.

Building a Foundation

Time Use

Selecting Outcomes

Time use is an important measure of youth involvement in family, school, and community. The Search Institute identifies important examples:
Creative activities - Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.
Youth programs - Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in community organizations.
Religious community - Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.
Time at Home - Young person is out with friends "with nothing special to do," two or fewer nights per week.
What will be done in you program to make sure youth-
  • are actively involved in planning the experience/program?
  • are actively involved in implementing the experience/program?
  • feel valued and needed?
  • feel a sense of belonging?
  • take an active role in the experience/program?
  • feel included rather than excluded?

Identifying Practices

How It Works

Things To Think About

A committee of adults and teens had been working together for more than a year. Now new people were joining the group. Group members were concerned that the new people would not appreciate what had been accomplished. The new members were wondering if they would be welcomed and their ideas respected. To bring the new and past members together, an overnight retreat was scheduled.
   During the retreat a wall-sized history chart was built by the group. Several team-building activities were led. During the closing activity the group stood in a circle and exchanged a T-shirt and a special message with another person. New and past members learned to appreciate each other and looked forward to working together.
  • Intimidating behavior like bullying, name calling, and physical harassment make youth feel unwelcome and excluded.
  • Group identity grows when young people create their group rules and establish their standards of behavior.
  • Team building takes extra time initially, but pays dividends in the long run.

Words Of Wisdom

"The fastest, most efficient method may not promote sharing, learning, belonging, and responsibility." Joyce Walker, Center for 4-H Youth Development, 1996.


Questions For Youth

Youth Develop Self-Worth Through Meaningful Contribution

Premise

Young people feel free to contribute, and their contribution is accepted, acknowledged, and appreciated.

Building a Foundation

Empowerment

 

Selecting Outcomes

Empowerment is an important outcome of making a contribution and promotes an increased sense of self-worth. The Search Institute identifies important examples:
Community values youth - Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
Youth are recognized as resources - Young people are given useful roles in the community.
Youth included in community service - Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.
 
    What will be done in your program to make sure youth -
    • contribute individually to the group experience?
    • work together with adults to create the experience?
    • are challenged?
    • are recognized for their contributions?
    • know that their experience or contribution was valued by others?

Identifying Practices

How It Works

 

Things To Think About

A group of volunteer leaders spent time discussing the question, "What makes a good community service project?" They agreed upon the following points: let young people select projects that really interest them, have tangible outcomes, and make a real difference in the lives of others. Choose projects that have opportunities for learning and individual growth. Give priority to ongoing projects contributing to the common good. Older youth helping younger youth is a great program model. Discussion and reflection help young people understand the significance of their contribution.  
  • Self-worth and personal power grow through service to others.
  • Group celebrations are good ways to reward contribution and service.
  • Young people gain understanding and empathy through active service to others.
  • Young people benefit from seeing tangible outcomes and hearing direct feedback from people they affect.

Words Of Wisdom

"Among the most powerful means of enriching young lives is to enlist their energies in improving their own great communities." Great Transitions, p. 110

Questions For Youth

Youth Discover Self

Premise

Youth are encouraged to try new things and learn about themselves. As a result they discover and practice their interests and skills, test their independence, and take control of their lives.

Building a Foundation


Positive Identity
 

Selecting Outcomes

Positive identity provides young people with a sense of purpose. The Search Institute identifies important examples:
Personal power - Young people feel they have control over things that happen to them.
Self-esteem - Young person reports having high self-esteem.
Sense of purpose - Young person reports that "my life has a purpose."
Positive view of personal future - Young person is optimistic about her or his future.
  What will be done in your program to make sure youth -
  • are challenged to attempt or learn something new?
  • discover something about themselves?
  • have an opportunity to be someone special?
  • apply content and life skills learned to their everyday lives?

Identifying Practices

How It Works

 

Things To Think About

   A group of teens accepted the challenge to develop a new program for younger youth. The program would provide information about critical issues and develop decision-making skills. The teens developed a teaching plan, learned teaching skills, and determined results, including change in themselves and in the younger youth they taught. Through this opportunity, the teens
  • strengthened self-identity and self esteem,
  • learned how to influence decisions about critical issues,
  • developed teamwork skills, and explored interests and skills which could relate to career decisions.
 
  • Offer everyone the same opportunities.
  • Include challenges in the experience.
  • Allow time for the participants to create their own experiences.
  • Do not solve problems for youth. Be supportive and interested and allow them to think of their own solutions.

Words Of Wisdom

"If you try too hard to impress other people and make all your decisions based on what they think, then youíre not living for yourself and eventually you forget who you really are." Dawn, age 11, Take Time to Play Checkers.

Questions For Youth

Youth Develop Quality Relationships With Peers and Adults

Premise

Youth develop caring and trusting relationships. Youth and adults learn together and respect one another.

Building a Foundation

Support

 

Selecting Outcomes

Supportive relationships bring safety, stability, and encouragement to young peopleís lives. The Search Institute identifies important examples:
Family support - Family life provides high levels of love and support.
Positive family communication - Young person and her or his parent(s) communicate positively. Young person is willing to seek parental advice and counsel.
Other adult relationships - Young person receives support from three or more non-parent adults.
Caring neighborhood - Young person experiences caring neighbors.
Caring school climate - School provides a caring, encouraging environment.
Parent involvement in schooling - Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school.
 
    What will be done in your program to make sure youth -
  • interact as equal partners in planning, implementing, and evaluating the program?
  • have time to meet and learn about each other?
  • are able to continue friendships with other youth and adults?
  • interact with adults to learn and have fun together?

Identifying Practices

How It Works

 

Things To Think About

Shaleen is a 12-year-old who recently moved into the community. Her mom and stepfather are shift workers at a local mill. Next door is Jean, a kind "grandmother-type" who welcomed the family with homemade cookies when they moved in. Shaleen visited Jean often and heard stories about Jeanís grandchildren doing community work in a neighborhood church youth group. Shaleen quickly warmed to the idea of doing things with the group and was invited to attend the "Milkshake Monday" sessions as well as Sunday School with Jeanís grandchildren. She became involved in the "blizzard bucket" project, making and delivering winter survival kits to senior citizens.
Shaleen continues to visit Jean often, sharing stories of excitement, as well as the ups and downs of growing up. In addition, Shaleen has new friends in the youth group.
 
  • It is important that youth and adults talk together, listen to each other, and express interest in each other. It is not enough for adults to say, "Iím here for you" and expect youth to seek them out. Adults must initiate relationships too.
  • In quality relationships, youth and adult ideas are valued equally. Itís important to avoid viewing adults as the "experts" and youth as "the problem."
  • Youth need and want many opportunities to share their knowledge, ideas, and opinions.

Words Of Wisdom

"A long-term relationship with a caring adult can change a young person's life." Forgotten Half, 1988, p. 45.

Questions For Youth

Youth Discuss Conflicting Values And Form Their Own

Premise

Youth have a safe place to talk with other youth and adults about values and topics that are important to them. All beliefs and questions are respected and taken seriously.

Building a Foundation

Positive Values

 

Selecting Outcomes

Positive values give young people something to strive for. The Search Institute identifies important examples:
Caring - Young person places high value on helping other people.
Equality and social justice - Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty.
Integrity - Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs.
Honesty - Young person tells the truth, even when it is not easy.
Responsibility - Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility.
Restraint - Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or other drugs.
  What will be done in your program to make sure youth -
  • form their own values and beliefs?
  • feel free to express their values and beliefs?
  • understand and respect the values and beliefs of others?

Identifying Practices

How It Works

 

Things To Think About

Teen leaders in a local youth group who met monthly didnít seem to get anything accomplished. They were always arguing and taking sides about the issues the group was dealing with. Some felt excluded because their views were not accepted. Half were not talking at all. No one felt good about the experience and attendance was dropping. The leader encouraged the teens to establish ground rules. Each person silently wrote the ground rules he or she felt were important. The teens then took turns sharing their ideas with the whole group. Teens discussed the ground rules and voted to accept the final list that included respect for othersí opinions. The list was posted at each meeting. Participants held each other responsible for following the ground rules.

Two meetings later, almost everyone was feeling more comfortable expressing their views and were actively participating in the meetings.

 
  • There are no right or wrong answers when discussing values.
  • Encourage everyone to participate in diverse ways.
  • Acknowledge everyoneís view point.
  • Recognize emotions but donít allow them to dominate the experience.

Words Of Wisdom

"If trusted and respected, young people readily learn to evaluate situations, make decisions, and solve problems." The Forgotten Half, p. 51.

Questions For Youth

Youth Feel The Pride And Accountability That Comes With Mastery

Premise

Youth experience success by completing activities appropriate for their stage of development and preferred style of learning. Youth set goals and celebrate accomplishments.

Building a Foundation

Educational Commitment

Selecting Outcomes

Doing well in school gives young people a sense of pride and accountability. Keep in mind that opportunities also exist outside of school for youth to feel a sense of accomplishment. The Search Institute identifies important examples:
High expectations - Parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.
Achievement motivation - Young person is motivated to do well in school.
School performances - Young person has a B average or better.
Homework - Young person reports doing at least one hour of homework every school day.
Bonding to school - Young person cares about her or his school.
Reading for pleasure - Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.
What will be done in your program to make sure youth -
  • determine personal goals for the program/experience?
  • will be accountable for their personal goals?
  • gain knowledge leading to mastery through hands-on experiences?
  • reflect and receive feedback on what they accomplish?
  • receive public recognition for their accomplishments?
  • share accomplishments with each other?
  • have opportunity to practice skills until they master them?

Identifying Practices

How It Works

Things To Think About

A group of youth from a local 4-H club traveled to another state to participate in a Habitat for Humanity Project. Having little experience in building a house, the teens were apprehensive about their skills. The group spent a week learning how to read blueprints, develop carpentry skills, and work as a team. At the end of the experience, the youth were proud of the skills they had learned, the house they built, and their contribution to the community.

  • The planning process and the experience are as important as the end product.
  • Encourage group members to celebrate each othersí accomplishments.
  • Teaching someone else a skill youíve learned is the final step of mastery.

Words Of Wisdom

"It makes me feel special to know that I can display my talents, and that people appreciate it." Tyrone, Urban Sanctuaries, p. 45.

Questions For Youth

Youth Expand Their Capacity To Enjoy LIfe And Know That Success Is Possible

Premise

Youth are offered new experiences and opportunities to enjoy life. They learn and grow from successes and failures.

Building a Foundation

Social Competencies

 

Selecting Outcomes

Personal life skills are essential to positive youth development. The Search Institute identifies important examples:
Planning and decision-making - Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices.
Interpersonal competence - Young person has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills.
Cultural competence - Young person has knowledge of and comfort with people of different cultural, racial, or ethnic backgrounds.
Resistance skills - Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.
Peaceful conflict resolution - Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.
  What will be done in your program to make sure youth -
  • have fun and laugh?
  • excel and have an opportunity to be recognized?
  • set goals and work toward their goals?
  • think about life plans and their future?
  • develop hobbies and leisure interests?
  • take healthy risks?

Identifying Practices

How It Works

Sean saw TV news clips about an outdoors adventure program at an area camp. Sean wished he could take part in such an exciting adventure, but he knew his parents couldnít afford to send him.
One day he mentioned to the school counselor his love for the outdoors and referred to the camp he had seen on TV. The counselor knew of a work program available at the camp. Sean applied and was accepted.
The camp director appreciated Seanís willingness to work and his sense of adventure. Sean was willing to take risks, get up from falls, and try again. He wanted to sail and through hard work and a lot of hands-on learning, he became a member of the Sea Filly sailing team. At the campís annual sailing regatta, Sea Filly was one of seven boats to finish the race. The whole camp was on hand to cheer on the teams as they sailed across the finish line.

Things To Think About

Words Of Wisdom

"Although community programs should address the serious concerns of today's young people, they should also respond to adolescents' desire for fun and friends." A Matter of Time, p. 79.

Program Planning Outline

Topic:

Audience:

Time Allowed:

Location:

Which of the keys will you address?

___ 1. Youth feel physically and emotionally safe

___ 2. Youth experience belonging and ownership

___ 3. Youth develop self-worth through meaningful contributions

___ 4. Youth discover self

___ 5. Youth develop quality relationships with peers and adults

___ 6. Youth discuss conflicting values and form their own

___ 7. Youth feel the pride and accountability that comes with mastery

___ 8. Youth expand their capacity to enjoy life and know that success is possible

Selected Outcomes--What are your desired results?



Identifying Practices--What techniques and strategies will be used to meet the outcomes?



Questions for Youth--What follow-up questions will be used?



References

A Matter of Time: Risk & Opportunity in the Nonschool Hours. Report of the Task Force on Youth Development and Community Programs. Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1992.

Benson, Peter L. "Developmental Assets Among Minneapolis Youth." Minneapolis: Search Institute, 1996.

Henderson, Nan. "Resiliency in Practice: One-to-One Interactions that Foster Resiliency." Resiliency In Action: A Journal of Application and Research, vol. 1, no. 1, Winter 1996, pp. 15-17.

"Keys for Kids." Adapted from the publication Training Trainers to Teach, and is used with permission from the National 4-H Council.

Konopka, G. Requirements for the Healthy Development of Adolescent Youth in Adolescence, VIII, 31, Fall, 1973.

McLaughlin, Milbrey W., Merita A. Irby, and Juliet Langman. Urban Sanctuaries: Neighborhood Organizations in the Lives and Futures of Inner-City Youth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994.

Pittman, K. Promoting Youth Development: Strengthening the Role of Youth Serving and Community Organizations. Washington D.C.: Academy for Educational Development, June 1991.

Snow, Misti. Take Time to Play Checkers. Toronto: Penguin Books, 1992.

The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for Americaís Youth and Young Families. Washington D. C. Youth and Americaís Future: The William T. Grant Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship, 1988.

Walker, Joyce, and Trudy Dunham. "Understanding Youth Development Work: Center for 4-H Youth Development, College of Education and Human Ecology." University of Minnesota Extension Service, 1994.

Development of This Document

This document was developed and written by:

Patricia Almquist, Barbara Brekke, Sara R. Croymans, Kari Fruechte, Mary Matlack, Betty McAndrews, Patricia Morreim, Jolie Ogg-Graybill, Barbara Piehl, Joyce Walker, and Tom Zurcher.

All are Extension Educators and members of the Child and Youth Development Specialization of the University of Minnesota Extension Service. This specialization is committed to promoting positive development of youth in cooperation with families, communities, organizations, school systems, and the youth themselves. National reviewers included Dr. Roger Rennekamp, Dr. Barb Warren, Dr. Richard Krueger, Dr. Roger Johnson, Dr. Allen Smith, and Ms. Jennifer Bloom. Additional support was provided by Richard Krueger, Evaluation Specialist, University of Minnesota Extension Service; Shep Zeldin, Director of Research Planning, Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, Academy for Education Development; Kathleen Cleberg, editor, and Sara Johnson, graphic designer, both with University of Minnesota Extension.

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