Why are youth development organizations important?

Parents may ask, “Should I get my child involved in a youth development organization?” The answer is yes!

Youth standing in a circle forming a start with their fingers.

Michigan has many different youth development organizations, such as YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, 4-H, sports organizations and many others. Each organization has different missions or models that they use to provide programs. Ultimately, they all provide opportunities for youth to learn skills. Some of these might be specific skills like dancing techniques or how to play soccer, but other organizations are providing opportunities for youth to develop general life skills, such as responsibility, decision making, caring for others or leadership.

It is important as a parent to look for organizations that have a positive youth development focus. What does positive youth development mean? Youth.gov, an interagency working group on youth programs, defines positive youth development as follows:

“Positive youth development is an intentional, prosocial approach that engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes, and enhances young people’s strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.”

Positive youth development is an intentional program that engages youth with opportunities and positive relationships that will help them grow into successful adults. Parents want positive outcomes for their children and the more ways we can get youth involved the better.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that as a parent, you do research and find a youth development program that works for your youth and your family. Ask questions about youth safety policies and parental involvement. Talk to your family networks to see what programs they recommend and what their kids are getting out of attending these programs. The more people you know involved in an organization, the more likely you are to feel connected and welcomed, resulting in a longer commitment to the organization, a better experience, and longer lasting positive outcomes for your youth.

Research from the Search Institute shows that developmental assets are important to youth success. There are 40 developmental assets that the Search Institute identified as positive assets that can help youth be successful in life. Some of the 40 assets include positive adult role models, positive peer support, creative activities, self-esteem and honesty. Positive youth development organizations can help youth develop assets by providing emotional support, positive experiences, social skills and opportunities to build relationships.

Take some time as a family and think about the youth development organizations in your area and how you might be able to get involved. Many of them may also be looking for volunteers to help in an adult capacity as well. Involvement provides numerous benefits that will serve adults and youth for years to come.

If you are interested in in getting involved with the Michigan 4-H Youth Program, please contact your local MSU Extension office for details on how to enroll.

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