An Evaluation of 4-H’s Approach to Teen Programming
Stephanie Schamess, Sara Levine, Tom Waskiewicz
4-H has a longhistory of creative programming for teenagers and the organization is unique inthe advisory role it gives teen members. It is one of the few (if not possiblythe only youth organization) that has youth as equal partners on all itsgoverning boards. Teenagers, however, remain the most likely to drop out of theprogram. In an effort to discover thereason behind the high teenage drop out rate, a historical analysis wasconducted on how adults in the government and local communities have influenced4-H and how the resulting programming has impacted and been modified byteens. The historical analysis wascreated to trace the social context in which 4-H arose and to provide abackground for the reasons that the program is unable to retain olderyouth. By interviewing teens in Maineand Massachusetts who are currently in 4-H and teens that had left 4-H, itbecame apparent that the teens’ reasons for leaving were not due to a rigidityin the program. Their responses showthat while their reasons differed slightly by state, teens mostly left 4-H dueto time-intensive involvement with other activities or due to a lack ofawareness about the program's image and focus. Most of the teens who dropped out were either under the impression that4-H was largely an agricultural activity or they were unaware of theopportunities available through 4-H, and therefore got bored and left theprogram. Based on the results it wassuggested that the 4-H teen program in both states focus on educating the teensand adult leaders of teen groups within the program about the variety ofavailable programming. An effort alsoneeds to be made to update the 4-H image without denying 4-H's agriculturalroots. The most effective means to dothis is through the creation of a data about the "4-H Family" (4-Halumni) in an effort to connect the teens in the program to a larger community.
Whoare teenagers? In our society, teensare often seen as individuals that are somehow outside of the societal norm:frequently violent, immoral and uncontrollable (Ginzberg, 1960).
Amultitude of studies have been conducted to determine how the family, theworkplace, and the school can best assist and guide teens, yet there has been alack of studies analyzing the impact extra-curricular activities have onteenagers' development (Sibereisen, 1994). Despite the lack of formal research,the interaction that occurs in betweenthe time spent with the family, work, and school has a significant impact onteens' lives and the controversy over the use of that time has dominated thesocial discourse over the last century. "We have failed to look at the interactive effects of differingdefinitions of the child-into-adult transformation provided by the family, theschool, the workplace, and other social institutions..."(Ianni, 1989: 14).There is a rich history in this country of conflict between teens and adultsover the use and definition of this "in-between" time and the teen'sinvolvement in an extra-curricular club has often been the resolution of thatconflict. Adult attempts to createdifferent types of adult-supervised activities to fill this unsupervised timehave resulted in the formation of youth character building agencies as theYMCA, YWCA, Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire Girls, Junior Achievement, andthe 4-H program. While many of theseactivities were formed to engage teenagers, teens drop out of these groups morethan any other age cohort (Hawes & Hiner, 1985; Joe, 1995; Wrenn,1941). I have chosen to use the 4-Hprogram to examine teen and adult conflict over teens' use of free time and todetermine the reasons behind the high teen drop out rate.
Iwas in 4-H for fifteen years, and when I was a teen, I decided to stay with theprogram. My decision to stay involvedin 4-H enabled me to benefit from a number of experiences like national tripsand conferences. In addition to thebenefits, 4-H served as a helping hand when I came up against hurdles in mydaily life. The 4-H people with whom Iinteracted became a support system for me when I felt that I couldn't go to myfamily for help. Various adolescentdevelopment studies assert that teenagers often need an adult support system onwhich to rely. Since 4-H was mine, I amcurious as to why other teens who joined 4-H as pre-adolescents chose to relyon a different support system.
Ihave chosen to focus this study upon 4-H due to its long history of youth work,its connection to the government, academia and other adult bodies, and due toits innovative approach and flexibility toward programming for youth. First andforemost, 4-H was developed through the USDA (United States Department ofAgriculture) Extension system at the beginning of this century as a way ofproviding university research and resources to hard-to -reach ruralcommunities, and it is still successful as a partially government-funded anduniversity-based youth agency today. Its connection to the government meant that governmental social policyheavily influenced 4-H programming. Itoften resulted in changes in programming on the local level and shifts in theprogram's focus nationally. The programwas also developed initially with input from the early founders of the study ofadolescent psychology, and therefore, changes in psychological theory inrelation to adolescence have directly affected the program. This report willexamine the influence adolescent psychology has had on youth developmentprogramming and the formation of 4-H's approach to developing programming forteenagers.
Othersources of funding and support for 4-H have come from business and privatefoundation support, therefore the impact of changes in the economic environmentof the country and the agendas of business in relation to youth have affectedthe program's focus. 4-H has an evenmore direct tie to adult and parental concerns through its reliance on adultvolunteers to supervise the program's activities in local communities.
Thefact that 4-H has been a popular youth development agency for almost a centuryis significant. If one was to pick ayouth agency as a lens through which to view the changes in adult-teen conflictover the use of free time over the past century, focusing on
Thecreation of 4-H as a youth development agency, the social construction ofchildhood and the creation of the field of adolescent psychology were almostsimultaneous, and they arose in part due to the shifting social and economicclimate that characterized the beginning of this century.
Youthwere viewed by adults as embodying the future of American progress and asindividuals who could be molded into ideal citizens, and a great deal ofemotional energy was invested in their education and guidance toward thatend. Mandatory schooling was based onthis ideology. "By the 1920s and1930s, educators looked to the developmental significance of adolescence,especially to the special aptitudes for self-direction and the clannishness ofyouth as a potent force for citizenship and assimilation, and with this in mindthey tried to construct a broadly conceived school program" (Austin &Willard, 1998: 95-96).
Youthbecame pigeonholed into a role in which their primary goal was preparedness andadults worked hard to provide supervision and guidance for youth during this timeof preparation and development. It waswidely believed that youth were unable to negotiate this pre-adult time withoutadult assistance, and the professional institutions created during this periodsupported that notion. "Adolescence was constructed...as a separate and particularlyfragile stage of physical, emotional, moral, and intellectual development thatcould be successfully navigated only through the intervention of virtuousadults" (Austin & Michael, 1998: 3). These virtuous adults in turn looked to the new research presented byadolescent psychologists for guidance concerning their role in the properintervention into youth lives.
The most prominentof these psychologists was G. Stanley Hall (1911) whose research and findings about teenagers not only informedpolicy makers, but also provided adults with a vocabulary with which to labeladolescent behavior. His research andcharacterization of adolescence as a period of "storm and stress” weatheredvarious social upheavals through the century and remains prevalent today indiscussions of teenage behavior. Hisresearch also indirectly encouraged adult ephebiphobia (a fear and loathingtoward adolescents) by validating adult concerns about teenagers' innateirresponsibility and irrationality and cementing the adult belief thatunstructured, unsupervised time provides a breeding ground for teens' natural(and socially unacceptable) tendencies to flourish (Astroth, 1995).
Unsupervisedtime was closely linked to youth becoming involved in gang activity and otherimmoral behavior, and adults felt that organized youth development agencieswere alternatives to those type of youth affiliations (Ginzberg, 1960; Ianni,1989; Smith, 1962). This cure for teenage delinquency was believed to be (and stillis considered to be today) found through youth participation in organizedactivities that promote the acquisition of skills in preparation foradulthood.
Thisconcern over monitoring youth's free time activities led to an explosion ofyouth character building organizations. Within a ten year period (from 1910 to 1919) the Boy Scouts, Camp Fire,Girl Scouts, 4-H Clubs, Junior Red Cross, Junior Achievement, The Pioneers ofthe YMCA, and the Girl Reserves of the YMCA were founded.
Unfortunately,the bulk of the discussion over the last century surrounding the use of youth'sfree time has not focused on those youth who choose the moral and sociallyacceptable path presented to them by adults via youth development agencies.
4-Hhas often been used as an alternative to teen delinquency by offering teenagersroles as productive citizens at an early age through community serviceactivities. Most of the concerns aboutjuvenile delinquency were triggered by massive social changes, and the first ofwhich was the economic Depression of 1929. The economic pressures of the Depression forced teens to choose one oftwo options: either enroll in schools as a way to feel useful during thisperiod of mass unemployment or leave home in an attempt to find work.
Duringthe Depression, adults began to view youth as two distinct groups--those whosuccessfully developed their potential by involvement with the school systemand other character building organizations (like the 4-H), and those youth thatdisengaged from such institutions. Eventhough four-fifths of all high school students in the 1930s and 40s wereregular participants in extra-curricular activities, social policy focused onthe one-fifth not engaged in such activities (Austin & Willard, 1998:97). Adults felt as though youth notengaged in school and other extra-curricular activities were heading towarddelinquency and for the most part, the social policy initiatives throughout therest of the century focused on this latter group.
Asa federal agency, 4-H joined in the effort to catch transient youth and toprovide support for families during this period of difficulty.
4-H was wellaware of youth' desire to be active participants in discussions over the futureof America. The National 4-H Congressprovided an opportunity for 4-Hers to discuss with their peers from across thenation their concerns and fears. Duringthe war years, this discussion focused on the meaning of war and the part thatyouth could play in the resolution of the conflict. Often these discussions spurred the development of new projectareas. The project to "feed afighting man" or to fill one supply ship with food was one of the resultsof these discussions (Wessel, 1982).
Itwasn't until the advent of World War II that teenagers found themselvespropelled from a social position of non-citizen with little responsibility to aessential player in the future of America. Previously cut off from meaningful interaction with the world of workand adults, teenagers were suddenly asked to become more involved in the wareffort. "War created exciting (anddangerous) opportunities for teenagers to prove themselves in the adultworld. It opened the doors to work,training and adult independence that had been closed to high school age youthfor years, and it changed national priorities" (Palladino, 1996: 60).
However,this direct involvement in the war only affected males over the age of 18.
ThroughoutAmerica, youth in 4-H became involved in the Food for Freedom program (aneffort to increase food production to feed the soldiers) and every club showedimpressive agricultural increases. Theyalso joined efforts to collect scrap metal and many 4-Hers used money gainedfrom their agricultural earnings to buy war bonds (Horn, 1998). Mostinterestingly, however, many 4-H groups developed forums for the young membersto assemble and assess their feelings and fears about America's involvement inthe war and to encourage discussions about politics and the appreciation of ademocratic society. This emphasis onthe personal development of the youth and the increased understanding of the USdemocratic process was not only progressive for its time, but would also leadto further development of citizenship programming like Citizenship WashingtonFocus.
As part of aneffort to connect this new youth generation to the workings of its governmentand social order, 4-H (and in 1953) the National 4-H Club Foundation, with agrant from the Schwarzhaupt Foundation, created 4-H programming that enhanced4-Hers' understanding and sense of citizenship. They were able to create Citizenship in Action grants for statesto use to involve their 4-H clubs in their communities in citizenshipactivities. Out of these programs, 4-Hcurricula on democracy, emergency preparedness and life careers were created,leading to the development of short courses on economic and businesssubjects. Today this program is knownas Citizenship Washington Focus, a program that runs throughout the summer atthe National Center to teach youth about civic responsibilities, the structureof the legislature, and the history of the Capitol.
AfterWorld War II ended, adults discovered that during their war effort absorptionthey had lost control over youth "free time" behaviors.
Thisadult fear of teenage delinquency and teen culture also became a concern overteenage sexuality as the behavior of a group of Mexican Americans who calledthemselves "pachucos" took centerstage in public discourse.
Theactions of the pachucos (and the violence that resulted from their interactionswith soldiers) convinced the government that it was necessary to examine theproblem of juvenile delinquency in an effort to control and regulate thissegment of the population. In the firstsix months of 1943, 1200 magazine articles appeared that focused on juveniledelinquency alone (Palladino, 1996: 81) and most often the sources of teenagedelinquency were connected to aspects of the teen culture and the failure ofproper parenting, not to the social atmosphere of the time period.
Thisadult inclination to blame teen culture for the gap in understanding betweenthe generations, and for the increase in juvenile delinquency was partiallysupported by Coleman's research and categorization of teenagers as possessing adistinct culture. Coleman's book, TheAdolescent Society is one of the foundations upon which academics andpolicy makers have structured their thinking and actions about teenagers andtheir proper role in society. While hisresearch helped to highlight the growing independence of youth in relation toadult input, he also gave support to the adult concern that too little adultsupervision resulted in delinquency. "To put it simply, these young people speak a differentlanguage. What is more relevant to thepresent point, the language they speak is becoming more and moredifferent" (Coleman, 1961:3). Increasingly, teens began to be unjustly punished for behavior thatwould have warranted lesser punishment for adult offenders.
Mostsocial policy in relation to regulating teenage behavior (especially since the1950s) was fueled by misinformation about the teenage condition and fear thatteenagers were a potential threat to the future of America.
Dueto 4-H's "acceptable image" it was thought to be the perfect vehicleto address problems of juvenile delinquency and urban decay.
Partof the drive behind this creation of new programming was to cater to a newgeneration of youth that were thought to have short attention spans due totheir heavy diet of television. Therewas a huge concern that youth not involved in youth development programs like4-H were spending too much time digesting the messages that the media werecreating. During the same time periodin American history, Congressional hearings were held to address the issuesaffecting those youth (mostly considered delinquent) that were not in 4-H orsimilar programs. The power of thisnewly emerging force was highlighted in the 1953-60 Congressional hearings inwhich they noted that "it was almost impossible to raise healthy youthwhen movie directors, record producers, and comic book writers shamelesslyridiculed parental authority and encouraged teenagers to see themselves as atroubled class apart " (Palladino, 1996: 159). Not only was the media seen as leading teens away from adultmorals, but it was also seen as encouraging anti-social behavior that wasintrinsically detrimental to the future of America. This concern only grew with the introduction of television intothe family home.
Youth cultureduring the 1970s became even more foreign to parents and adult policymakers. Popular assumptions about thisperiod of time create a vision of all youth participating in Woodstock-likefree love gatherings, protesting the Vietnam War, and staging sit-ins atcollege campuses. A major section of the youth population not only dissentedfrom mainstream society through their lifestyle choices (including drug use)but they also engaged in educating and enlightening others about socialissues. Often these outreach effortsbecame violent protests when youth began to demand that their voice and theirconcerns be heard.
Thestudent protests of this period struck fear into the heart of policy makers andadults. For the first time, teenagersrepresented a formidable force due to their shared ideology and sheernumber. In May, over 200 collegesthroughout the US were reported to be in the throes of uncontrolled studentdemonstrations, concerned in most cases with issues of civil and minorityrights, Vietnam and the draft, and faculty links with military and businessresearch requirements. These and otherevents created a huge sense of fear of violence beget by teens directed atadults. No longer did adults feel that theyhad any sense of control over youth's actions and, often out of fear of youthviolence, their retaliation to student protests was drastic and forceful.
Itis interesting to note that during the 1970s with the war on Vietnam and themultiple examples of student uprisings; 4-H made it clear that the concerns of4-H teens should not be muffled. Bornout of that period was an emphasis on forums in which teens could talk aboutwhatever concerned them without adult restriction. The 4-H program was often seen as a conservative organization,but during this period, it embraced controversial subjects such as drug and sexeducation. In 1973 delegates toNational 4-H Conference asked for and got a frank discussion about abortion,teenage pregnancy, and sexuality (Wessel, 1982: 274).
Unfortunately,media attention on youth during the 1970s was not focused on the youth who wereinvolved in 4-H (who were often directly improving the conditions of theircommunities), but on the teenagers who were heavily involved in drugs andanti-government social protests. Thispublic concern in the 1970s about the impact of drug use on youth behaviortranslated into governmental anti-drug campaigns like the Republican "waron drugs" in the 1980s. Newscastsshowed images of teenage drug addicts in an effort to frighten the public intoincreasing funding for prevention programs. Amazingly, "neither surveysnor statistics in the early 1980s revealed any serious teenage narcoticscrisis" (Males, 1996: 30). TheUS Department of Health and Human Services showed that in 1992 only 11% ofcurrent illicit drug users were ages 12 to 17 (Fenwick, 1994: 214).
Adultshave been beset by the fear of the potential for teen violence over the pastcentury (Barson & Heller, 1998). The conviction that this violence will be directed at adults themselveshas created a great divide between the generations. This sentiment was voiced by Richard Rodrigues, the editor of theLos Angeles Times who wrote, "Who are our youth? One minute they are innocent. The next, they may try to blow your head off" (Rodrigues, 1993: M1,M6). This headline speaks to the adult assumption that gang involvement is onthe rise, and that this influence is part and parcel to the increase in youthviolence. Yet despite a "barrageof media attention, today's youth are no more likely to be involved in gangactivities. In cities like Los Angeles, estimates are that only 5%-10% of allyoung people is involved in gangs. Evenin the most heavily gang-infested neighborhoods, the majority of young peopleare not gang-affiliated" (Astroth, 1995).
Thisfear of violence by teens is partially created by the prevalent assumption thatadolescence is a period during which, due to physiological changes, theteenager is prone to making irrational, impulsive decisions that are oftendangerous and is easily spurred on by peer pressure. This socially accepted notion is supported by organizations suchas the American Psychological Association which asserted in 1993 that"anti-social behaviors tend to peak during adolescence' due to 'teenagedevelopment crisis'" (Males, 1996).
Oneof the reasons for this view of adolescence is due to the initial structuringof the field of adolescent psychology as a period of "storm andstress" (Hall, 1911). However,
Theteenage years are no more emotionally and psychologically unstable than anyother period in life, and outbursts of anti-social and violent behavior areoften due to economic and other life stresses rather than being due to aspecific life stage. For teens that arenot subject to stressful living conditions, empirical studies have shown thatadolescents are no less rational than adults. "Applications of rational models are consistent in their reasoningand behavior...(and) no more based in their estimates of vulnerability toadverse health consequences than their parents" (Males, 1996: 34).
Theoriesof identity development and "crisis" that characterize how societyviews teenagers have greatly impacted the lives of these youth.
Afteralmost a century of viewing youth as developmentally deficient and sociallydeviant, there are demands for a new model of interaction among youth andadults. Sections of the population arebeginning to question the prevailing social norm and ephebiphobia expressed bythe media and legislators. While thisnew adult perspective regarding teenagers is emerging in academia, it has notresulted in the creation of legislature that supports youth.
The4-H program (under the auspices of the US Dept. of Agriculture) has a historyof innovative programming and has often been the forerunner for supportiveyouth initiated projects. Not only has4-H survived for almost one hundred years, but it is still vibrant today withalmost six million youth involved in the program. The history of the program mirrors the national policyinitiatives and social upheavals that have impacted American society.
Duringits earliest years 4-H was simply a tool for Extension (the land-grantuniversity branch of the USDA that 4-H was founded under) to educate thegreater community about agricultural advances that would increaseproductivity. Agents quickly discoveredthat it was easier to educate youth about new farming methods (who would inturn often educate their parents) rather than educate adults directly.
The4-H program also allows a great deal of youth initiative in relation tochoosing individual club projects, the development of new projects, and newcurricula. The structure of the clubprocess itself (electing a president, vice-president, secretary and atreasurer) not only encourages youth leadership and involvement, but alsoallows for youth input. Moreover, forthose youth not involved in a traditional club, involvement with the programoften helps youth to create a support system and community outside of theirfamily. This flexibility in relation tothe focus of 4-H programming began early in the last century at the first National4-H Camp held in Washington, D.C. in 1927.
National4-H Camp represented the first time that youth and extension agents fromNorthern and Southern states met formally, and even though the structure of theprograms in the North and South were different, a decision was made that bothhad merit and that both should continue. The South focused on club work that was organized principally throughthe schools, and the North organized its efforts through more communityorganizations, but both still accomplished the main objectives of club work, sotherefore the structure was insignificant. This attitude of flexibility in relation to structure is one that wasuniversally accepted through Extension and 4-H's history.
Atthis national 4-H Camp, the 4-H pledge was also formally created.
National4-H Camp laid the groundwork for National 4-H Conference, which was foundedwith the intention of utilizing youth as resources in programming. National 4-HConference went through program changes in order to involve the teenagers moreintimately with the planning process. In 1969, 4-Hers attending National 4-H Conference were selected fortheir ability to evaluate the 4-H program and to return home to participate inprogram planning. While the teenattendees retained the opportunity for the delegates to meet with Congressionalmembers (mostly due to 4-H's constant desire for more funding), starting in1977 delegates selected to this and future conferences became heavily involvedin program planning and public relations. These 4-Hers would meet in consulting groups to discuss the pros andcons of the 4-H program and would create concrete action plans that would bebrought back and implemented on the local level. The emphasis of National 4-H Conference today reflects thischange with a greater emphasis on working on improving the 4-H system anddelegates chosen for their leadership and commitment to community service.
Partof 4-H's success lies in its ability to rapidly change its program's focus whenthe environment demands a different approach. This ability is due to 4-H's introspective nature and to the program'smulti-layered leadership design where the local level has as much decisionmaking power as the national level, and where youth have as much leverage inprogram development as do the national program leaders.
Inrelation to youth involvement in programming, 4-H has been involved ingroundbreaking work well before the rest of the academic community.
The4-H program has made significant changes in its approach to programming forteenagers in the last fifty years, and current initiatives include a
While there isavailable information about the program changes in the 4-H program, andspecific "success" stories provided by youth that were involved,there is a lack of quantitative research charting the impact of 4-H involvementon teenagers. Even more lacking isresearch into what holds some teens in the program for five years or more.
Inher book, Urban Sanctuaries, McLaughlin reports on her interviews withsix successful youth groups throughout the country, from which she compiled alist of qualities that make a youth group successful. This is one of the few comprehensive studies that deal with thoseaspects of a program that successfully support teenagers.
1. The ability of the program to "stretch" and change inrelation
to theyouth's interests
2. A committed and energetic adult advisor
3. A link to the greater community
4. The availability of future opportunities for development
through the program.
5. Physical safety and security of a meeting time and space
6. Real life opportunities presented within the group context
Theability to stretch is one of the most important aspects of a successful youthorganization. In the 4-H program, thedropout rate of younger members is relatively low, but once the youth reachesjunior high school years, other interests and social conflicts arise resultingin a large drop out rate for this age group. Programs (like 4-H) aimed at youth have to restructure their format forthis age group, and instances in which youth are not given more say in theorganization and more leadership in their own activities, often result in theyouth losing interest and dropping out. "The successful organization's programs, activities, and missionsare carried out in ways attuned to their adolescent members' values andgoals"(McLaughlin, 1994: 3). Thoseprograms that are adult dominated and structured around activities in which theyouth has a limited role are largely unsuccessful with teenagers.
4-H began tostretch in the 1930s when it realized that the retention rate for its programswas low, and that teenagers were prone to dropping out of the program in highernumbers than before recognized. ECOP(Extension's Committee on Policy) made major program changes, changing the agelimits for 4-H membership from 10 to 21 years to 9 to 18 years, and determiningthat programming should be developed for different age ranges: the 9 to 11, 12to 14, and 15 to 17, with an entirely different program for older 4-Hers.
Theincreased interest in studying the needs of older 4-H members began in 1944when Field Agent E. W. Aiton addressed the delegates at the annual FederalExtension conference in 1944. He notedthat psychological characteristics of older youth were different.
In 1950,Extension received a grant from the Sears-Roebuck Foundation to conduct atwo-year pilot program for young adults in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and NewHampshire. One of the major findingswas that older youth felt that adults held them back from accomplishing things.One of the obstacles to obtaining the autonomy that the teens wanted was thefact that many Extension agents were uncomfortable with the teens' request forclubs that involved mixed gender youth working together. Another similarprogram for young adults began in 1952 with a grant from the Fund for AdultEducation. This was a three-yearprogram in which older youth were engaged in discussions of public affairs.
Adultsinvolved in successful youth organizations "believe that the genuine andactive contribution of youngsters in building the organization also teachesthem a sense of responsibility and ownership" (McLaughlin, 1994: 105).Teens in youth organizations will be very honest in informing the adult thatthe reason they chose to drop out of a program was directly related to theadult's attitude and role within the group. "The prime causes of disengagement were childish and boringactivities, domineering adult leaders and a group size too large for closepersonal relationships" (Lipsitz, 1972: 178). It is obvious from this discussion that the adult leader caneither make or break a group.
The researchdoesn't find that youth groups should be completely without adult involvement,but suggests that the role of the adult should be clearly defined as anadvisory capacity. In fact, there havebeen numerous studies showing that having a supportive adult outside of theimmediate family is a beneficial aspect of group involvement.
Theadult's firm belief in youth as a positive resource is also essential to asuccessful program. When these adultsframe their personal and organizational missions they consider the youth theyare working with as resources and they view the youth organization as anopportunity to develop these resources. "They see potential, not pathology" (McLaughlin, 1994:96). Their focus is constantly on theneeds of the youth. This focus takesprecedence over goals of the organization, mission or activity.
Whenyouth have control over the majority (or all) of the group's leadership, theygain a sense that their actions are real and meaningful.
Peerinteraction is seen as an integral part of identity development, and Erikson'stheory (1965) of group identity speaks to this necessity.
Studiesshow that a positive affiliation with the values and goals of the group oftenlead adolescents to develop a greater attitude of acceptance towards others(Cotterell, 1996: 13). Developing ateen program that is flexible in relation to group structure and programming isrewarded many times over through both a stronger organization with highenrollments and a more positive impact upon the youth involved.
Theinterpersonal interactions among youth in the group and the sense of acommunity created by the group are also one of the factors identified byMcLaughlin as most mentioned by youth for their reason to join and often tostay in certain organizations. "The interactions between a person and members of the network ofothers provide the social provisions which create community, confirm identity,and prevent loneliness" (Cotterell, 1996: 7). Moreover, today's societycan be a very lonely place. Separatedfrom adults for the majority of the day and discouraged from being involved ina community, many youth feel abandoned without a support system to fall backon.
Oneof the most important aspects of successful programs is an emphasis on supportsystems, which link adults and adolescents in a variety of formal and informalsocial networks. Being a part of agroup or network of individuals can provide a number of benefits, but whatappears most important is that the networks include both adults and youthworking together on productive tasks and problem solving activities (Ianni,1989: 269).
The largerconnection to a community is paramount to a successful program.
Allsuccessful youth development organizations encourage a love of learning whetherit be through the acquiring of skills or through support to obtain a collegedegree (McLaughlin, 1994). The moresuccessful programs, however, are those which support youth in theireducational goals, whether through advice, assistance with filling out collegeapplications, or financial incentives such as college scholarships.
Inrelation to current Extension studies about teens and 4-H, Associate ProfessorEmmalou Norland of Ohio State and Melissa Beaver Bennet, a Soil Conservationistfrom Urbana, Ohio discovered that there are "predictors" for an olderyouth's satisfaction with 4-H. Theirfindings (drawn from a questionnaire sent to 6, 963 Ohio 4-H teenagers)identified the following predictors for a teen's satisfaction with the 4-Hprogram: a high quality 4-H meeting, high levels of responsibility, highcommitment, positive parental involvement and support, positive experience withcompetition, an opportunity to work with younger 4-H members, and gender (girlswere more satisfied than boys) (Joe, 1993). While this study did not impact the formulation of the currentquestionnaire used in my interviews of teens in Maine and Massachusetts, itwill be interesting to note where the current study supports these predictors.
Interviewswere conducted with teens from both Maine and Massachusetts who had shown acommitment to the 4-H program (through their involvement in state planningcommittees), and who had left the program. Names of teens who had left the program were provided by Extensionagents from across both states who examined their enrollment records andprovided names and phone numbers. Theinterviews of teens that had left the program were conducted by telephone,while the interviews of teens committed to the program were tape conducted inperson during breaks in their monthly meetings. Both sets of interviews were tape-recorded.
Therewere a total of 66 interviews conducted, 33 from each state.
Impact of Adult
It washypothesized that high levels of involvement in the group (through the amountof responsibility and the leadership the youth had in the group) would bepredictive of a youth's decision to remain in the program.
Adults'impact upon the leadership of the group did not appear to be related to thereasons teens gave for their disengagement from the 4-H program.
Mostcommitted teens gave strong positive response when asked about the adult'sinvolvement. Some of the committedyouth expressed that their adult leader was not only supportive but alsoassumed a mentor or advisor role in their lives. More specifically, MA committed youth were more than three timesas likely as ME committed youth to categorize their adult interaction ashelpful (MA=47%, ME=11%). Only thecommitted youth from both states used words like "role model","advisor", or "guide" (MA=33%, ME=4%) to describe their adultinteractions. It was hypothesized thatyouth who left the program would do so due to an interaction with a controllingadult, but no dropout teens described their adult interaction ascontrolling. The youth who dropped outdid not seem to leave for reasons due to a conflict with an adult leader, yetthe interaction was also not enough to entice them to stay either.
Level of Responsibility/Involvement in the Group Context
Norlandand Bennet found that a high level of responsibility and a high quality
4-H meeting were predictors for a youth'ssatisfaction in a group. It washypothesized that an absence of those factors might contribute to a youth'sdisengagement. The results of this study, however, do not support thesefindings. Most teens interviewed (fromthe committed and dropout groups) wereboth in an equal group setting and responded with a positive level ofsatisfaction with their involvement, and yet some of the teens interviewed hadleft the program. Sixty-seven percentof dropouts and committed youth from both states were involved in a groupsetting, which was via an equal or democratic group process.
Amount of Family Involvement/Support
Anotherfactor often attributed to a youth's continued involvement or disengagementfrom a group is the amount of family support the youth receives for his/herefforts. This is mentioned by bothMcLaughlin as a factor for a "successful" youth group, and by Norlandand Bennet as a predictor for youth satisfaction in a youth group, and
The youthprogram's flexibility to meet the needs of teens has been mentioned byMcLaughlin as a prerequisite for a successful youth group.
Whenasked about what types of teens they thought were suited to 4-H, the committedgroup from both states most often cited a sense of commitment and responsibility(23%). The next most frequent response was personality traits such as"outgoing" or "social" (18%), and "open-minded" (13%). For those who left the programfrom both states, the most common response was an interest in agriculture(33%), "outgoing or social" (15%), and "committed" or"responsible" (11%). Byexamining the responses further, however, we find that the idea that aprerequisite of an interest in agriculture was essential for 4-H was
Forthe teens committed to the program in MA the most frequent answer was"outgoing" or "social" (34% of the responses), and theresponse of "interested in learning" or "interested inagriculture" or “thinks 4-H isan agricultural program” was more prevalent in the ME teen's response (28%)than MA teen response (10%). As awhole, there was more of a variety of responses from the committed group ofteens than from the teens who had left the program.
Inan effort to get a sense of why the teens think some of their peers leave theprogram, teens from both the committed and drop out groups from both stateswere asked what type of teens they thought would not be suited. The teensfrom MA who left the program were more prone to answer that the teens who think4-H is agriculture and/or don't like agriculture, animals, farming etc. weremost likely not to be suited to the program (92%)and more than half (60%) ofthe teens who left from ME also offered that answer. The second most common response was that those who have anegative attitude would also not be suited with 42% of the drop outs from MAand 53% of the drop outs from ME offering that response.
Committedteens were similar to the teens that dropped out in their responses about whattype of teen would not be suited tothe program. They thought that teensnot suited to the program were not "interested in agriculture"(MA=76%, ME=56%), and teens with a "negative attitude" would also notbe suited (MA=25%, ME=67%).
By combining theteens’ responses to what teens they feel are or are not suited to 4-H, apattern of lack of awareness of the variety of the 4-H program emerges.
Lipitz'sstudy (1977) focused on three factors for a youth's disengagement from aprogram: a large group size, domineering adult leaders, and/ or boring orchildish activities. This study did notshow trends to support the latter condition, where 44% of the drop outs fromboth states were in groups of 10-15 (the most common group size for moststates) and dropouts were not more likely to be involved in larger groups.
Teensinterviewed from both states also did not describe the adult interaction ascontrolling. The first reason fordisengagement from a youth program, however, (boring or childish activities) ismost relevant to the responses obtained in this study (See Figure 3a and3b). When the teens who had left the program from both states were asked whythey left, both groups responded that they were too busy (MA=50%, ME=67%), theylost interest (MA=25%, ME=33%), and they had other activities they were moreinterested in (MA=17%, ME=13%). Finally, 33% of the ME teens mentioned thattheir only reason for leaving was that their leader stopped running the group.
Disregarding thislast response, the reasons the youth gave for leaving the program were: anotheractivity that is too time consuming (most mentioned athletics) and boring ornot interesting activities. Almost onehalf of those teens who left felt that the program had become boring anduninteresting. Perhaps these teens werenot aware of the range of other opportunities that they could be involved inthrough 4-H.
Teens' Initial Interest in the Program
Thereasons for joining 4-H were different for the two states, and ME teens joinedmore for reasons to do with their family (40% of the ME responses versus 21% ofMA responses) and while MA teens joined more for the program offerings (42%versus ME 33%) and due to a friend's involvement (MA=24%, ME=30%).
Traditionalheld assumptions about the factors behind teens' disengagement from 4-H werenot supported by this study. Issuessuch as teens' level of involvement, adult interaction, level of satisfactionwith input in group decisions, and level of family involvement were not issuesthat teens' gave for leaving. All ofthe teens interviewed were satisfied with their level of involvement in groupdecisions, and the majority felt thatthe members were in charge of the decision making process.
While the historyof 4-H outlines the amount of flexibility inherent in the program's structure,some of the teens interviewed, (especially those who left) were unaware of theprogram options available to them. Thetrends that arise out of this study indicate that teenagers leave the programeither due to a lack of awareness of the program's purpose, or a more intensiveafter school (often athletic) conflict. Some of the teens mentioned that they had reached a point where theyhave simply outgrown the support and programming that 4-H can offer them.
Responses from theyouth who left the program provide data suggesting that the youth that leave arenot aware of the potential activities that they could have been involvedin. Many believed their currentexperience with 4-H (via an agricultural group) was their only option withinthe program and therefore the program was not engaging enough to continue.
The responsesgiven from the question concerning "what type of teen is most suited to4-H" gives us an interesting view into the type of programming offered inboth states. For the teens committed to the program in MA the most frequentanswer was "outgoing" or "social" (34%), and the responseof "interested in learning" or "interested in agriculture"was more prevalent in the ME teen's response (28%) than MA teen response (10%; SeeFigure 1) As a whole, there was more of a variety of responses from thecommitted group of teens then from the teens who had left the program.
A few of the teensresponded that "city people" are the type of teens not suited to4-H. Though infrequent, when coupledwith the number of times that teensresponded that "teens most suited to 4-H" are those interested inagriculture, it should raise some concern about the viability of the 4-Himage. The concern over the popularimage of 4-H as a primarily agricultural organization is well rooted in thehistory of the 4-H program, and many youth today still join the program due toan agricultural interest. With the highnumber of youth involved that live in urban, non-agriculturally based areas,however, there needs to be an effort made towards educating these teens aboutthe other options that 4-H can offer them.
By sustainingteens' initial interest or reason for joining, it might be possible toeliminate their reasons for leaving. MAteens most often joined the program due to its project offerings (MA=42%,ME=33%) or due to a desire to interact with or make new friends (MA=24%, ME30%). While ME teens mostly joined dueto a family influence (ME=39%, MA=21%). With such a heavy family involvement, 4-H for the youth in ME becomeslinked with a part of how their family interacts, and this might be a part ofthe reason behind the ME teens more intensive involvement.
The 4-H programhas had a long history of developing teen programming in response to thechanging interests of youth and the growing adult concern about unsupervisedyouth free time. The result has been astrong youth development effort in which teenagers have been given an equal andsignificant voice in not only what programming they want to be involved in, butalso what type of programming they want developed and how they feel the nationalstructure and funding of the organization should be handled.
Unfortunately, 4-Hexperiences a high teenage attrition rate that has largely beenunexplained. This study was an effortto not only discuss the role that 4-H played as a negotiator between youthdesires and adult concerns, but also to serve as an evaluation of one of theweaknesses of the 4-H programming -- retaining its teenage audience.
What washighlighted in this study was that in many ways the teen programs in Maine andMassachusetts are very strong. In fact,in Maine the problem of teenage dropout rates could be considered minimal.
One of the mostdirect ways to track the benefits of the 4-H program (and gain a sense of howlong a youth needs to be involved in order to gain those benefits) is bytracking 4-H alumni. Unfortunately,this is one of 4-H's weaknesses, and until recently, the organization was nottracking such information. Alumniinformation would not only provide an evaluative tool for the organization as awhole, but would also highlighting those alumni in the community, possiblychanging the public's (and teens') opinion about the focus of 4-H.
Theresults from this study suggest the following actions in order to improve theretention rate of teens involved in 4-H in Maine and Massachusetts:
One of the mostdisturbing discoveries of this study was that the majority of the reasons forteenagers' disengagement from the program was not due to the program'sinflexibility but due to the lack of awareness on the youth's part as to theoptions that 4-H can offer a teenager. Most of the youth interviewed characterized 4-H as a solely agriculturalorganization, and characterized youth most suited to 4-H as those who liked orwho are interested in agriculture. While 4-H has and retains a strong tie to agriculture, the project areasoffered by the program are only as limited as a youth's imagination.
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Austin, J. & Willard, M. (1998). Generations ofyouth: Youth cultures and history in
Barson, M. &Heller, S. (1998). Teenageconfidential: An illustrated history ofthe American teen. San Francisco, CA:
Borman, K. & Schneider, B. (Eds.) (1998). Theadolescent years: social influences and
educational challenges.Chicago, IL: University of ChicagoPress.
Coleman, J.(1961). The adolescent society: Thesocial life of the teenager and its impact on education.
Committee of the Judiciary: US Senate. (1955-56). Juveniledelinquency: Comic
books, motion pictures, obsceneand pornographic materials, television programs. New York, NY:
Cotterell, J. (1996). Social networks and social influences in adolescence.
York, NY: Routledge Publishers.
Erikson, E.(1965). The challenge of youth. New York, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc.
Erickson, E. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York, NY: Norton Publishers.
Fenwick, E. &Smith, T. MD. (1994). Adolescents:
Ginzberg, E. (Ed). (1960). The nation's children. New York, NY: Columbia
Hall, S. (1911). Adolescence:
anthropology, sociology, sex,crime, religion, and education. NewYork, NY: D. Appleton & Co.
Hawes, J. & Hiner, R. (Eds.) (1985). Americanchildhood: A research guide and
Ianni, F. (1989). Thesearch for structure: A report onAmerican youth
Nicholson, S.(1972, April). Theory of loose parts. Landscape Architecture Quarterly.
Norland, E. &Bennet, M. (1993.) Youth participation. Journal of Extension.http://www.joe.org/joe/1993fall/a5/html.
Kraus, R. (1964).Recreation and the schools. New York, NY: The Macmillian Co.
Lipsitz, J. (1977). Growingup forgotten: A review of research andprograms
concerning early adolescence.
Males, M. (1996). The scapegoat generation:
McLaughlin, M., Irby, M., & Langman, J. (1994). Urbansanctuaries. San Francisco,
CA: Jossey-Bass. Publishers.
Mortimer, J. & Finch, M. (Eds). (1996). Adolescents,work and family: An
Paikoff, R. (1991). Shared views in the family duringadolescence. San Francisco:
Palladino, G. (1996). Teenagers: An Americanhistory. New York, NY:
Rodiguez, R.(1993, Dec. 13). Who are our children? Los Angeles Times. pp. M1-M6.
Silbereisen, R.& Todt, E. (1994). Adolescent in context: The interplay of family, school, peers and work in adjustment.New York, NY: Springer-Verlag.
Smith, A. (1998). National 4-H enrollment report.Washington, D.C.: United States
Department of Agriculture.
Smith, E. (1962). Americanyouth culture: Group life in teenagesociety. New
York, NY: The Free Press of Glencoe.
Stern, D. & Eichorn, D. (1989). Adolescents andwork: Influences of social structure,
labor markets and culture.
Wessel, T & Wessel, M. (1982). 4-H:
Weissbourd, R. (1996). The vulnerable child: Whatreally hurts America's
children and what we can doabout it. New York, NY:
Worell, J. &Danner, F. (Eds.) (1989). Theadolescent as decision-maker: Applications to development and education.Boston, MA: Academic Press, Inc.
Wrenn, G.&Harley, D. (1941). Time on theirhands: A report on leisure,recreation & young people. Washington D.C.: American Council on Education.
Zelizer, V.(1985). Pricing the pricelesschild: The changing social value ofchildren. Princeton, NJ: