Teen participation in 4-H clubs

Keeping teens involved in 4-H by offering leadership opportunities.

Teens have many things competing for their time—school, extra-curricular activities, part time jobs, youth development programs, family, friends and other things. This often creates a challenge for 4-H clubs, programs and adult leaders, as we do not want to lose teen members as they offer leadership skills, perspectives and unique problem-solving skills. Michigan State University Extension suggests the following ideas on what an adult leader can do in order to meet the developmental needs of teens and retain them as current and future leaders in the 4-H program.

Balance of physical and emotional activity. Teens have tremendous energy, but also enjoy “hanging out” with their friends. Recognize the physical difference (strength, size and flexibility) in the teen when planning activities. Select activities that allow members to participate safely and mutually succeed.

Success. Teens strive to develop abilities and accomplishments on the road to success in a chosen interest area. Teens are very self-conscious, so rewards mean everything and embarrassment and failure are devastating. Provide opportunities for achievable success in club activities.

Self-expression. Teens want opportunities to explore the world around them and reflect upon those new experiences. Offer club programs that help teens explore a variety of ideas, skills, activities, careers and games to facilitate this self-expression.

Creativity. Allow teens to express their uniqueness. Stereotyping teens as “all” being artistic or athletic, or that “all” teens are busy, would not be a fair or correct statement. Many teens are looking for and need a connection with a positive program. People must be careful to not limit youth and put them into a box. 4-H programming can allow teens to express their uniqueness and creativity, which keeps them interested.

Positive peer relationships. Offer teens the opportunity to have peer relationships. It is great for them to serve as mentors and teen leaders, but offering an opportunity for socializing with peers is key to keeping teens involved.

Meaningful membership. Design 4-H club programs with your teens, not for them. Teens want to be responsible for the club. Help teens develop important leadership and decision-making skills and a strong commitment to the 4-H program by letting them plan and implement the club program. Committed 4-H members will become 4-H graduates, not 4-H dropouts.

Councils, boards and committees. Make all councils, boards and committees within the youth development program follow the youth/adult partnership philosophy. Offer teens an opportunity to have a role where they are making decisions that affect the entire 4-H program.

MSU Extension’s 4-H Youth Development designs programs for all youth ages 5 to 19. The Leadership Civic Engagement work team specializes in involving youth in leadership roles and giving them a voice in programming, thus leading to key opportunities to retain teen involvement in your program. For more guidance on how to involve youth within your programs, contact the Leadership Civic Engagement work team at 4-H Leadership@anr.msu.edu.

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