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Positive youth development

October 1, 2016
Jodi L. Smith , MOV Parent

According to youth development experts, positive youth development is a combination of positive experiences, positive relationships and positive environments. Positive youth development does not happen by chance. It is an intentional effort to involve youth in activities, events and groups that promote positive outcomes for young people. These environments are supportive and help youth strengthen their leadership skills. Caring adult role models support and mentor young people and all youth feel a sense of belonging.

Youth development organizations promote healthy living, provide young people an opportunity to connect with caring adult role models and provide support to help young people reach their fullest potential. Perhaps more importantly, youth development organizations promote fun, hands-on learning in a non-formal setting focused on life skills as opposed to academics. So where exactly do parents find a place that provides positive youth development? There are numerous organizations in every community that provide youth with positive experiences, relationships, and environments. Many community organizations provide these experiences including the largest groups, Scouts and 4-H. These programs are available in every county, and open to school-age youth and young adults. Learning in youth development organizations takes place in community centers, churches, camps, outdoors, fairgrounds, barns, kitchens, parks and playgrounds.

The 4-H program is under the direction of the extension service of the state's land-grant university. In West Virginia that is West Virginia University, and in Ohio, it is The Ohio State University.

Each county in the state has an extension office that is responsible for the direction of the local 4-H youth development program.

In 4-H, youth take projects and work independently or in groups in areas like rocketry, cooking, fishing, photography, leadership, sewing, child care, animal science, nutrition, bicycles, recycling and more.

There are hundreds of project areas from which to choose. Project exhibits are displayed at the county fair and youth earn ribbons and project pins. In addition to project work, youth work to solve problems and provide community service, learn leadership through 4-H club officer positions, teen leader programs, and learn career skills by working as 4-H camp junior counselors.

Scouting programs are among the nation's largest youth development organizations offering similar experiences where youth learn leadership and valuable life skills.

In Boys Scouts of America, youth build character and learn leadership, responsibility, citizenship, good character, hiking, camping and health lifestyles in a fun, educational environment. Girl Scouts of the USA have fun earning badges, hiking and camping and exploring careers in science and technology.

Much research over the years has concluded that young people who have opportunities to participate in programs promoting positive youth development experience more positive outcomes and are less likely to participate in risky behaviors. Multiple studies conducted by a team at Tufts University on both Scouting programs and 4-H show that youth participating in these programs make healthier choices and contribute more to their communities. These programs also have a positive impact on character.

For more information on 4-H youth development programs in your area, visit Information about Boy Scouts of America can be found at and information about Girls Scouts of the USA can be found at


"Positive Youth Development." N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

"Understanding Youth Development Work." : Training and Events : Youth Development : University of Minnesota Extension. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.

Jodi L. Smith is the 4-H and Youth Development Extension Agent for the WVU Extension Service in Wood County.



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