This paper defines youth development in clear, practical terms. Written by Joyce Walker and Trudy Dunham on behalf of the faculty at the Center for 4-H Youth Development, University of Minnesota, 270b McNamera Center, 200 Oak Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455. Phone: 612-624-2116 or 1-800-444-4238.
What is Youth Development?
Youth development is the process of growing up and developing one’s capacities in positive ways. This typically takes place in the context of the family, the peer group, the school, and the neighborhood or community.
Many young people do not have the advantages that promote optimal, healthy development of the body, mind, and spirit. Many youth do not have opportunities to experience positive stimulation for growth or nurturing support from family, friends, and community. Youth development is a natural process, but it cannot be left to chance. As the Youth Development Committee of the Lilly Endowment noted (Pittman, June 1991):
“Youth development ought not to be viewed as a happenstance matter. While children can, and often do, make the best of difficult circumstances, they cannot be sustained and helped to grow by chance arrangements or makeshift events. Something far more intentional is required: a place, a league, a form of association, a gathering of people where value is placed on continuity, predictability, history, tradition, and a chance to test out new behaviors.”
What is a Youth Development Organization?
A youth development organization exists to promote the positive, healthy development of young people. Youth development organizations are different from agencies and systems that exist to provide social control, treatment, or training for young people. The socialization of youth is the youth organization’s primary task (Pittman, 1993). Their mission is to provide the challenges, experiences, support, and help young people need to develop to their fullest potential. These community-based organizations work to meet needs in the environment and enhance the learning experiences of young people. No single organization does it all.
Youth development organizations involve young people of all ages and both sexes, although some target certain audiences. They encourage long-term involvement and provide a progression of activities promoting developmental growth. They emphasize learning strategies based upon fun, play, action, and group and individual challenges teaching life skills rather than academic lessons.
4-H is the oldest and largest publicly funded youth development organization in the United States. Begun in the early years of the 20th century as a vehicle for extending the learning of the land-grant university to the children of rural communities, 4-H today has a presence in every county. It is a part of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded through a partnership of federal, state, county, and private resources. 4-H is open to all interested young people and their families.
To be continued in coming issues.