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Who am I? The two important ingredients for identity formation

By Jessica Pierson Russo

Young people try on identities like hats. They experiment with ways of dressing and talking, even trying out beliefs and values. This is completely normal. Yet the many dimensions of identity—race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.—can make forming an integrated identity complex.

Nagaoka defines an “integrated identity” as “a sense of internal consistency of who one is -- across time, place, and social realms. Having an integrated identity “provides a stable base from which a young person can act in the world.”

What role can youth programs play in helping young people form an integrated identity? There are two important ingredients: Developmental experiences and developmental relationships.

Developmental experiences Experiences that support a young person’s developmental needs are those that allow youth to encounter new things, tinker with them, practice new skills, and make their own choices.
Encountering Provide as much opportunity as you can for you…
Recent posts

How to help stressed-out youth to cope

By Trisha Sheehan

Do you remember what stressed you out as a kid?  I clearly remember worrying a great deal about my school grades and big track or cross country meets. Of course I wanted to do my best, but in my mind, I also had to be the best. That didn't always happen -- which caused me more stress.

Like adults, young people have stress. It can come in many shapes and sizes. Maybe it’s due to a test grade, or a friendship, or the perceived expectations of parents. There may be family stress related to finances or farming situations.

What can we as youth workers, volunteers and parents do to help young people better manage stress?  It’s important to pay attention to the warning signs of stress:
Feeling sad or withdrawn.More irritable or moody than usual.Drastic changes in behavior or sleep patterns.Routinely expressing worries.Clinging more to parents.Sleeping too much or too little.Eating too much or too little.Complaining about school or activities they attend.
These behaviors m…

How to talk with youth about violence: Tips for youth workers

By Jennifer Skuza

Acts of violence seem to face our youth at every turn. According to CNN, 15 school shootings have occurred already this year, most recently taking the life of 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo of Colorado. While such violence is hard for adults to process, youth look to us for guidance on how to react. We can help them feel safe by establishing a sense of security and talking with them about their fears.

Here are some ways to approach these difficult conversationsMake time to talk. Let their questions be your guide. Be patient. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you work. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Help children to talk about their feelings, put them into perspective and express their feelings appropriately.
Keep your explanations dev…

How your youth program can encourage community

By Rebecca Meyer

Summer is a transitional period for youth, parents and families. Young people have finished an academic grade and many are looking ahead to the next. Summers are varied -- youth may take part in camps or other learning activities, travel with family or simply recharge with little day-to-day structure.

This time of year is a good time to recognize the changes taking place in young people’s development and design programs that take those changes into account.

We establish patterns of behaviors. The start of summer vacation is an excellent opportunity to reflect on these patterns, to identify potential program shifts, and to create summer routines to emphasize program elements. Intentionality in program design is crucial to a program’s success and impact.

In 4-H youth development, we ground our programs on four essential elements. These essential elements of positive youth development are belonging, independence, mastery and generosity. My colleague, Mary Arnold, recently…

The benefits of community-engaged research

By Joanna Tzenis

I am a community-engaged researcher in the field of youth development. What does that mean?
It means that I approach research as a process to collaboratively strengthen the well-being of a community while contributing to the field. Here’s how I did this working alongside youth, families, and community members of Somali heritage in Minnesota.
I collaborated with stakeholders to identify issues critical to the community My 10-month longitudinal study came about as I developed youth programs together with leaders of a Somali-youth serving organization, Ka Joog. Together, we created youth programs. We determined desired outcomes of these programs situated in community assets and needs around improving youths’ educational outcomes.
Research questions emerged through increased stakeholder interaction that lifted up the need to more deeply understand youths’ lived experiences. In doing so, we could do two things. We could illuminate larger lessons (to the field and to commun…

Partnership problems and how to solve them

By Betsy Olson

Organizational partnerships can save money, reduce effort and benefit youth. But as anyone who has built or sustained an organizational partnership will tell you, they take time and can be thorny to navigate.

Over the last four years, I have co-facilitated a course for 4-H staff on organizational partnerships. In it, we discuss common partnership problems and solutions. Here are a few of the most common ones.

Problem #1: I have great ideas for this partner, but they only bring obstacles After working with a school coordinator to recruit youth for a leadership program for two years with very little success and resistance to any new recruitment ideas, we discovered that they were trying to recruit youth to help in the school garden. We changed the leadership program to a nutrition teaching program that incorporated the school garden and merged our recruitment efforts. It worked. The partner became more willing to try our other ideas.

Key takeaway: Improve your relationship…

Fostering a love of discovery

By Karen Beranek

Picture this: I’m sitting in an airplane with a bright and energetic 16 year-old 4-H member who is excited and nervous about her very first airplane take off. Her adrenaline is high and her senses are on full alert. And I get to be the adult to experience this with her.

Now picture another scene: I’m greeting excited campers as they arrive for their very first time at 4-H camp. The combination of hesitancy and curiosity shines on their faces. And I get to be the adult who introduces them to this amazing experience.

As a youth worker, one of the most meaningful and energetic parts of my work is giving young people the chance to try new things. They don't LOVE everything they try, and may not excel at everything. But it does give them a chance to build on their willingness and openness to discovery. A young person's desire to try new things and to enjoy challenges is an indicator that they are on a trajectory to thrive.

Mary Arnold, a youth development specialist…