Office Information

WVU Extension Service
Kanawha County Office
4700 MacCorkle Avenue SE
Suite 101
Charleston, WV 25304

Phone: 304-720-9573
Fax: 304-205-7863
Hours: Mon-Fri 8:00-4:00
Driving Directions

Topic 5: Essential Elements of Youth Development

Topic 5: Essential Elements of Youth Development

The Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development was designed to help anyone who works with young people understand the importance of positive development by presenting the 4-H Essential Elements as central to helping young people become competent, contributing adults. Credit: Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development, 2009.

This training topic will focus on the first three Essential Elements.

Essential Element: A Positive Relationship with a Caring Adult

A caring adult acts as an advisor, guide and mentor. The adult helps set boundaries and expectations for young people. The adult could be called supporter, friend, or advocate.
This is without a doubt one of the most important elements in youth programs. It is through relationships with adults that all the other elements are possible.These relationships are important for all youth, but particularly for those who have less-than-positive family situations. Research has shown that such relationships can act as a protective factor against other potential problem behaviors. We particularly want youth to be involved with adults who are what we call autonomy-oriented as opposed to control-oriented. These adults are those who let youth run the meetings and make decisions in a way that’s appropriate for their age and development (adapted from Ferrari, 2003).

Positive relationships with caring adults are found in all youth program settings, from youth camps to classrooms and from the local youth center to the library. Adults serve as volunteers, teachers, and parents as well as advisors, coaches, mentors and others who foster relationships with young people (e.g., by showing interest, listening). All are equally important in each delivery mode of the 4-H experience. These adults may serve as facilitators in clubs, special interest and project groups, school enrichment and camping programs. As youth-serving organizations continue to embark upon new levels of preparing youth, adult involvement will remain at the core of its success. These activities explore the critical characteristics and roles of successful caring adults.

This Element is present when adults:

  • Address campers by first names.
  • Know the interests of campers.
  • Pay attention to the activities of individual campers.
  • Use of active listening to camper needs and concerns
  • Interact with youth, not merely act as chaperones or supervisors.

Essential Element: An Inclusive Environment

An inclusive environment is one that creates a sense of belonging, and encourages and supports its members with positive and specific feedback. Healthy groups celebrate the success of all members, taking pride in the collective efforts of all participants.

An inclusive or welcoming environment goes a step beyond a safe environment. It is one where
individuals feel included as a part of the group and feel supported and encouraged. The feeling of belonging to a group is very important to a young person. This is often why youth assume certain styles of dress and behave in certain ways. There are some very simple ways to create belonging from club or group membership cards to club or county t-shirts (adapted from Ferrari, 2003).
One of the most pronounced developmental needs of adolescent youth is a sense of belonging or fitting in. As youth age, the influence of parents and other adults becomes less pronounced and the influence of peers increases. Status and peer influence often greatly affect how youth, especially adolescents, form their sense of “self” and react in different situations. It is important to remember that peers are not the only factors creating a sense of an inclusive or exclusive environment for youth. Adults can create an atmosphere that promotes inclusion or exclusion.

This Element is present when:

  • Campers encourage each other through various camp activities and challenges.
  • Youth feel they belong to their tribe or group at camp
  • Signs, t-shirts and other recognition identify the youth’s tribe, their camp, etc.
  • All campers feel free to invite friends to camp.
  • Activities and ice breakers are used at the start of camp to ensure everyone is involved.
  • Many forms of recognition are used to encourage campers (ex. cabin awards, camp awards, positive reinforcement by adult staff, etc).

Essential Element: A Safe Emotional & Physical Environment

Youth should not fear physical or emotional harm while participating in a 4-H experience, whether from the learning environment itself or from adults, other participants or spectators.
A safe environment seems self-explanatory. Safety is a very basic need. We want the physical
environments where our programs take place to be safe. That is, they need to be free from danger and adequately equipped for the activities that will take place. Prior to any program, we want to consider the possible risks involved and eliminate or manage those risks. That’s why we have lifeguards at camp waterfronts. It’s also why we have medical releases and background checks.
Physical safety is not the only aspect to consider. We also want environments to be emotionally safe. That means that participants are not afraid that they will be made fun of, insulted, or threatened (adapted from Ferrari, 2003).

There are things we all recognize or have contact with that can be physically or, more important, emotionally dangerous. Often adults are aware and accommodate for physical dangers such as slippery floors, faulty equipment, horseplay or carelessness. Emotional dangers, however, are many times harder to identify, are often more damaging, and the effects can last a lifetime. Most youth are resilient enough to bounce back from minor set-backs or dangerous situations but ongoing exposure to unsafe emotional environments can contribute to a long- term lack of confidence and feelings of inadequate self-efficacy (a perception of the ability to influence one’s future in a positive way).

This Element is present when: * Youth groups do not tolerate bullying, cliques or put-downs. * Youth are actively engaged in planning and evaluating programs. * Adult leaders and volunteers are screened before they begin working with youth groups, and are continually trained in safety and child protection. * Adults consider safety and potential risks with all camp classes or other activities they are leading. * Adults are consistent in how they deal with misbehavior. * All adults and youth know safety and emergency procedures.

Topic 1: Camp MissionTopic 1: Camp Mission & Job Expectations
Topic 2: Camp RulesTopic 2: Camp Rules & Policies
Topic 3: Camp is for Camper
Topic 3: Camp is for the Camper
Topic 4: Risk ManagementTopic 4: Risk Management

Topic 5: Essential Elements of Positive Youth DevelopmentTopic 5: Essential Elements of Youth Development
Online Quiz