The reality of aging out: Supporting youth who are experiencing their last 4-H program

The period of time when youth age out of the 4-H program is inevitable. Here are some practical ways to support youth through transition.

Photo by MSU
Photo by MSU

The transition from youth to adulthood is challenging. It is certainly a new beginning, but as Seneca said, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Youth are experiencing a year of “lasts” within the 4-H program and are beginning an exciting journey into many “firsts” as they enter adulthood.

Many youth who are transitioning out of the 4-H program have likely already graduated high school. They may be in full-time employment or college. Those are major life transitions for sure, but they are leaving the safety net of a structured youth program.

By this time, hopefully youth have learned many valuable life skills as a result of participating in the 4-H program, such as responsibility, time management, money management and problem-solving. They also most likely have developed relationships with adults who can continue to provide a support system.

Michigan State University Extension offers these practical tips to help youth cope, celebrate and commemorate their “lasts” within the 4-H program.

  • Special recognition. Highlighting the achievements of members is a great way to provide a positive send off. This also allows younger youth to see the vast potential of what they could do in the future.
  • Leadership roles. Since the next step to remain active in the 4-H program is to become a volunteer, providing senior youth with a meaningful leadership role within the program may help them consider how they can continue to contribute to the program.
  • Support. For those youth whose identity has been their 4-H project, this time may take an emotional toll. It is common for youth, especially those whose projects take up a significant portion of their time, to be left with a feeling of “now what?” Adults can help youth through this by listening and offering a non-judgmental safe space for them to grieve what is going to be a significant loss in their lives.
  • Memorable mementos of their experience. As a club, providing youth with a parting gift or celebration with their fellow club members is a great way to help youth bring closure to their member experience.

Congratulations to all those youth who have successfully completed their 4-H career! I genuinely hope each of you has valued your unique experience and that you will take the life lessons and skills you have learned into your future! Always remember that you are “4-H grown!”

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