Michigan 4-H helps youth build Developmental Assets – Part 1

A three-year study shows Michigan 4-H youth are building Developmental Assets through positive relationships with leaders, empowering youth to be creators of their own development and helping others through service.

Created in the 1990s, the 40 Developmental Assets are a compilation of positive experiences and qualities that influence a young person’s development and help them to become successful adults. The 40 Developmental Assets were developed by the Search Institute, with framework for the program grounded in research on child and adolescent development, risk prevention and resiliency. Research from the Search Institute shows that the more assets young people have, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors. In addition, these common themes explain the importance of assets learned through positive youth development that have emerged from numerous findings:

  • Assets promote academic success.
  • Assets divert youth from risky behaviors and increase civic engagement.
  • Assets give young people the strength they need to make positive choices in life.

Beginning in 2013, the Legacy Center of Midland, Michigan, started a three-year longitudinal study by working with three county 4-H programs in Clare, Gladwin and Midland counties to evaluate how many developmental assets 4-H members had and retained for three years. Total youth surveyed the first year was 153 4-H members in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. In 2015, 53 of the original surveyed completed another survey and that data was used to gather the results. Results of the study were released in July 2016 and show that 4-H does a great job of helping youth to develop assets and keep those assets over time.

One of the main findings from the study is that there were increases in all four of the internal assets scores: Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies and Positive Identity. This suggests the students are more likely to help others; build friendships; avoid bad choices such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs; have a higher self-esteem; and develop a more positive view of their future after participating in the 4-H program.

There were decreases in the external assets scores in the areas of Support, Boundaries and Expectation and Constructive Use of Time. This is very common in the middle to high school age of youth that were evaluated; however, the scores still remained above the average score of youth in their county, which shows the 4-H program helps to lessen the impact of those experiences over time.

Overall, the study reflects that through the Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development Program, youth are building assets through positive relationships with leaders, empowering youth to be creators of their own development and helping others through service. As parents and youth in our communities, the Michigan 4-H program can be a helpful tool as we strive to develop the positive assets that will help our youth be successful in life.

The upcoming articles in this series will explore more in depth the external and internal asset results of the study. 

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