Youth Contribution

Using the indicators of contribution present in the Wave 1 data, two measures were constructed which are distinct and which match the definition of contribution we have used in our work (Lerner, 2004; Lerner et al., 2003a), i.e., that within adaptive individual — context developmental regulations there is both an ideological and a behavioral component to youth contributions. The first measure reflects ideology of contribution and was obtained by coding responses to two open-ended questions. These questions asked youth to describe themselves as they would like to be and as they actually are, in terms of what they are like and what sorts of things they do. Responses that reflect a desire for or commitment to giving back to the world around them were coded as absent (0), present (1), or important (2). The second measure pertains to the behavioral component of contribution, and describes the amount of participation in activities that reflect active engagement with the world around oneself such as being a leader in a group, helping friends and neighbors, participating in school government, sports, religious youth groups, mentoring, and volunteering in the community.

The items used to measure contribution were considered a variable set and a sum score was computed for all youth with the ideology and participation scores equally weighted. Higher scores represent a composite indicating more involvement in contribution activities and/or an ideology of giving back to the world around oneself. This sum score was analyzed as an outcome regressed on youth sex, race/ethnicity, and household income and then compared with factor scores on each of the five Cs and PYD. Because fewer parents answered the questionnaire, the sample size drops significantly when household income is included in the analyses so the results are displayed with and without household income. When included in the analyses, household income is significantly and negatively related to contribution in fifth graders. However, the results are nearly identical for the other variables whether or not income is controlled for.

Females have significantly higher contribution scores than males and there are no significant differences for the race/ethnicity variables. PYD is significantly related to contribution when the background variables are controlled for. When the Five Cs are entered as a group instead of PYD, the joint contribution is significant (e.g., the change in R2 (5, 1047) = .037, p < .001 without controlling for income). The pattern for the individual Cs varies somewhat when income is not included: confidence and character are significantly related to contribution when income is not controlled for; and competence alone is significant when income is controlled for. This difference is likely due to sample size variation with the inclusion of parent variables.

These results provide empirical support for the theoretically-specified relationship between PYD and the Five Cs and contribution. Of course, these results represent a one-time pattern of covariation among the constructs. The longitudinal data from the subsequent waves of data collection to occur within the 4-H Study will permit assessment as to whether PYD and/or particular Cs at an earlier point in time predict the growth of contribution beyond any within-time relationships among the constructs. In addition, such data will enable analysis of the reverse direction of influence seen as possible within the developmental systems theoretical perspective, that is, contribution at an earlier time may promote positive growth (Lerner, 2004). In fact, if youth are engaged in community-based, youth development programs that foster civic engagement, the development of positive behaviors and the diminution of risk behaviors would, in fact, be expected. The final set of analyses conducted to date with the Wave 1 data were aimed at appraising the association of participation in such YD programs with PYD, risk reduction, and contribution, and will elucidate this possibility.

Youth Development Program Participation, the Five Cs, Risk Reduction, and Contribution

Given that youth development programs have been identified in theory (Lerner, 2004) and research (Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003a, 2003b; Scales et al., 2000) as key assets in promoting positive development among youth, we address the question of whether the level of participation in YD programs is associated with either PYD or contribution. Our view is that youth development programs promote youth contribution by having the Big Three features of effective programs that we have previously discussed, i.e., by assuring that the young person has a sustained relationship with at least one committed adult who provides skill building opportunities to the youth and who acts to enhance the young person's healthy and active engagement with the context (Lerner, 2004).

To reflect this orientation toward youth development programs, a measure of participation in youth development programs was designed to describe a youth's maximum depth of involvement with any of four kinds of programs: 4-H, Boy and Girl Scouts, YMCA or YWCA programs, and Boys' and Girls' Clubs. These programs were selected from among the many activities we asked youth to report on because their mission statements specifically emphasize a positive youth development perspective. Since we were interested in a sustained level of involvement, current and past participation was included and indexed by amount of participation per month in the activity with the greatest level of participation. For example, if a youth was active a couple of times a week in 4-H and went to the Boys' and Girls' Club twice a month, the activity level in 4-H of eight times per month was their participation score. Thus, this measure was developed to assess depth of participation rather than the number of programs in which youth participated.

Three regression analyses were conducted to address the question of the relationships among PYD, participation in youth development programs, and contribution. This analysis was done in an exploratory fashion as a first step toward assessing, while controlling for youth sex and race/ethnicity, whether participation contributes to the relationship between PYD and contribution for the fifth graders in this study.

In this sample, at Wave 1, both PYD and program participation are significantly related to contribution. The relationship between PYD and program participation is not significant. This pattern of results suggests that for this age group, PYD and program participation are each independently related to contribution rather than PYD being moderated by program participation. In addition, analysis of risk behaviors for Wave 1 indicated that, overall, adolescents reported relatively low incidences of substance use and delinquency. In addition, across the sample, the level of depression reported by adolescents was not indicative of risk. Based on the extant literature (e.g., Perkins & Borden, 2003), we expect that in future waves within this study the incidence and variability of these risk indicators will increase. Such changes will afford a more in-depth analysis of the relationship between the role of youth development programs in promoting the Five Cs and in diminishing problem behaviors. Thus, analyses of future waves of data will allow us to refine this finding and determine if there is a causal link between PYD and program participation and the nature and direction of the link.


Data from the first wave of the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development provide cross-sectional information that constitutes a baseline (foundation) for subsequent, longitudinal reports of the nature of developmental change in PYD, in the ideological and behavioral components of youth contributions, and in the relationships among participation in YD programs, the Cs of PYD, and youth contributions. Building on this foundation, future analyses will further refine the model of the Five Cs presented in this chapter. As an example, the correlations that exist among the Five Cs will be explored, and their significance to the conceptual model of PYD will be addressed. Furthermore, data from future waves of the study will allow for a more comprehensive appraisal of the model presented in Figure 18.1, and for the assessment of constructs not addressed in this chapter, such as regulation and the role of select individual and contextual assets.

While we provided preliminary, descriptive information about the behavior of all the measures included in the measurement model employed for Wave 1 of the study, the main analyses in the present report focused on only those measures that enabled us to address three issues, i.e., the nature of the empirical evidence for: (1) the conception that PYD may be instantiated by the Five Cs of competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring, and assessed in the present report through the unitemporal patterns of covariation available in the Wave 1 data set; (2) for the theoretically-specified relation between PYD and contribution; and (3) for the purported relations among participation in youth development programs, PYD, and contribution.

The results of the preliminary data analyses suggested that all the previously used measures and the scale scores derived from them behaved as expected, based on prior results reported in the adolescent development literature (e.g., Harter, 1998). Levels of reliability and validity reported in past research were replicated within the Wave 1 data analyses. In addition, the measures that were devised for use in the present research (e.g., the assessment of youth ideology of contribution) were found to possess moderate to high response or coding reliability; the theoretically expected patterns of association between these measures and other assessments within our measurement model (e.g., with the Cs of PYD) suggest the validity of these measures as well.

In regard to differential behavior of the scores in our data set across subgroups of the youth participants, we found that—given the number of preliminary comparisons made and the power of these analyses—relatively few instances of systematic variation existed in relation to major demographic categories within the sample, e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, household income, and mother's education. Nevertheless, girls more so than boys, and youth with higher family incomes, did tend to show higher scores on the Five Cs and contribution. However, given that these differences reflect unitemporal patterns of covariation, and therefore that their developmental significance cannot be ascertained through cross-sectional analyses, we believe that it is prudent to delay interpretation of the possible significance of such variation pending the replication of these differences in our longitudinal data.

Moreover, even when these few differences arose, they reflected contrasts between groups evidencing overall positive, healthy behaviors. That is, other general findings from the descriptive analyses indicated that the participants in this study were reporting their behavior to be positive and/or healthy. Of course, the location of these central tendencies in our data may reflect the often-reported positive bias in dependent variables associated with people agreeing to participate in a longitudinal study (e.g., Baltes, Reese, & Nesselroade, 1977; Schaie & Strother, 1968) and/or the fact that America's contemporary cohorts of young people exist in a far more positive state than prior deficit-based accounts of today's youth would predict (cf. Benson, 2003).

The viability of these two, nonmutually exclusive interpretations may be better ascertained as the 4-H Study continues its waves of data collection and participants enter the higher risk years of middle and late adolescence (Dryfoos, 1990; Perkins & Borden, 2003) and, in addition, are compared to retest control participants. In any event, we regarded the evidence we found for the psychometric quality of the present set of measures and the magnitude of the comparable behavior of the measures across demographic categories within the sample supportive of the use of these assessment tools in the analyses we conducted to address the three key issues discussed in this chapter.

Turning to the first issue—whether the unitemporal instantiation of PYD that was tested may be represented by the Five Cs—this chapter presents evidence of the empirical reality of these Five "Cs" and of their convergence on a second-order latent variable of PYD. The structural model initially tested in an attempt to verify the presence of these Cs and of PYD was derived from our interpretation of the extant theoretical and meta-evaluation evidence pertinent to the conceptualization of PYD (e.g., Benson, 2003; Damon, 1997; Lerner, 2004; Eccles & Gootman, 2002; Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003a, 2003b; Scales et al., 2000). While the results of the SEM analyses testing this model proved to be adequate, model fit was substantially improved in the model that derived from, first, a content analysis procedure regarding the specific substantive character of the items involved in the several measures used to assess the Cs and, second, from the subsequent modifications made to the model. Although an ideal model assumes low correlation between the manifest variables, we did not expect this to be the case, as these measures are expected to overlap somewhat conceptually (e.g., self-worth and positive identity should be related). As expected, we found that allowing the residuals of scales within the same latent variable to correlate resulted in a better fit of the model to the data.

Of course, even the revised model can be improved. The apparent shared variance between the first order factors of confidence/competence and character/caring that are not accounted for by the model suggest the presence of an additional structure. There are three potential ways in which these results can be interpreted. First, some of the Cs may represent the same latent construct, resulting in fewer than five Cs. Second, there may be an additional level of latent constructs present in our model, for instance, between the first order factors and the second order factor. Third, these findings may have resulted from the fact that all latent constructs are measured by self-report. For example, our working definition of competence clearly articulates that a purer measure of competence would result if the actions of youth were directly measured. These different possible interpretations of our Wave 1 findings will require cross-validation in subsequent waves of the 4-H Study, as well as in independent research that both uses the present measurement model and other potential indices of the Five Cs.

Furthermore, some of the latent constructs of the revised model are underspecified. As an example, the construct of caring seems not to be conceptually complete, as may be reflected in the lower correlations between caring and the other Cs, as compared to the correlations among the other Cs. Steps to improve the model have already been taken in subsequent waves of the 4-H Study. For example, in Wave 2 we added items to improve the measure of caring. This refinement process will continue through future waves of the study. Nevertheless, the current data provide strong, albeit preliminary and cross-sectional, evidence about the empirical reality of the constructs associated with the new vision and vocabulary about healthy youth development (e.g., Benson, 2003; Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003; Lerner, 2004; Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 2003a, 2003b).

There are also provocative preliminary findings from the first wave of the 4-H Study that are pertinent to the Sixth C, contribution, and thus to the second key issue of interest we addressed, i.e., the nature of the theoretically-specified relation between PYD and contribution. Both PYD and the Cs were related to the construct of contribution, which was indexed by combining scores for each of the two components of this construct (i.e., of ideology and of action) we believe comprise youth contributions. However, the strength of the relations we identified may be attenuated by the fact that the means by which fifth grade youth in America can contribute to their communities is relatively constricted by prototypic ecological circumstances (e.g., 10-year-old youth cannot drive themselves to community service sites and, in some cases, there is not public transportation that is convenient or even available). Nevertheless, the positive relations found among PYD and contribution are consistent with theoretical expectations (Damon, 1997; Damon et al., 2003; Lerner, 2004).

Moreover, these theoretical ideas, that suggest that there exists a bidirectional relation between youth civic engagement and thriving (Lerner, 2004; Sherrod, Flanagan, & Youniss, 2002), require time-ordered, lagged data for adequate testing. Accordingly, a key question to be addressed when at least three waves of data are available within the 4-H Study is the nature of the antecedent-consequent relations between contribution and PYD (thriving), that is, in the civically engaged youth thriving relationship, does one direction of effect lead the other in its influence on the course of development?

Of course, the opportunity for youth to contribute to their communities often occurs within the context of their participation in community-based, youth development programs. As such, the third key question addressed in this chapter was about the association between participation in youth development programs, PYD, and contribution. As with the engaged youth — thriving relationship, data fully adequate to address this question must be, at the least, longitudinal in character. Nevertheless, the Wave 1 findings we have summarized above offer some provocative ideas that will be tested as the 4-H Study moves into its longitudinal phases.

The present research indexed depth of participation in youth development programs and found that these scores for participation constituted a source of variation in youth contributions that was independent of scores for PYD. Given the theoretical belief in the bidirectional associations among PYD, youth development program participation, and contributions by youth to self and context (Lerner,

2004; Lerner et al., 2003a; Scales et al., 2000), the independent contributions of program participation and PYD to contributions is puzzling. However, it may be that future, developmental analyses across the adolescent years will elucidate the relation among these three domains of youth functioning. Developmentally, and again recalling the orthogenetic principle (Werner, 1957), it may not be until a more developmentally mature portion of adolescence emerges that an integration among PYD, youth development program participation, and self — context contribution is evidenced. Once again, this possibility can only be appraised through analyses of the 4-H Study data set that include information from additional waves of observation.

Such analyses may be usefully extended by ascertaining the personological and ecological characteristics of youth participating in specific clusters of particular YD programs, and/or by considering both hours per week of participation as well as the number of programs per se in which a youth participates. The results of such analyses will then be able to inform subsequent longitudinal analyses (e.g., wherein number of programs or frequency of participation at Time 1 can be used as a covariate in analyses of the relations at Time 2 among program participation, PYD, and risk).

Furthermore, the questions that remain to be addressed in regard to the third issue addressed in this study, i.e., the issue of the association between YD program participation and the positive development of youth, are just a sample of the questions that we need to investigate in further analyses of Wave 1 and subsequent data in the 4-H Study. For instance, further analyses will address key facets of the theoretical model of PYD we discussed in this chapter and, specifically, the role of individual — context developmental regulations involving the internal and ecological developmental assets of youth in promoting PYD. Although the 4-H data set includes a measure of developmental regulation, i.e., the SOC measure (Freund & Baltes, 2002; Freund, Li, & Baltes, 1999), the analyses we have conducted to date (Lerner et al., 2005) have not focused on the developmental regulation component of our theoretical model, despite its fundamental significance within the conceptualization we present of PYD. This decision was based primarily on the fact that developmental regulation can only be understood with change-sensitive data. Moreover, although cross-sectional data sets can be used to test hypotheses that conform to certain causal hypotheses, to test hypotheses reflecting dynamic, causal models longitudinal data are optimal. As such, these analyses remain priorities for future reports of the 4-H Study data set.

In addition, given the relative power and richness of the data set, we will be able to focus future work on patterns of individual differences in the youth development trajectories we will be able to assess across the waves of this longitudinal study. For instance, we will be able to also ascertain how different groups of youth (e.g., males and females, adolescents from different regions, youth involved in different constellations of activities, or adolescents having different family experiences) may differ in regard to the structure and levels of the Five Cs, PYD, and contribution.

As noted earlier, these analyses will be enhanced by improvement of the measurement model we use to index key constructs in our structural model of the adolescent — context relation, e.g., developmental assets and, particularly, external developmental assets which can be indexed objectively through measures of the actual ecology of human development (Theokas & Lerner, in press); they can also be conceptualized as distinct from the Cs of PYD with which (as evidenced by the nature of our revised measurement model) the perceived internal assets indexed by the PSL-AB covary substantially. Indeed, the opportunity in future waves to index constructs through both self-report and independent and objective means will enhance the level of triangulation within the data set and, as well, will diminish the possibility that method variance may constrain our ability to generate valid and generalizable data. The changes in the measurement model for the Five Cs that was introduced by the formulation of our revised measurement model, and the use of an enhanced measurement model for such constructs as ecological developmental assets or contribution (which can be indexed through school- and community-based records), will enable us to better appraise the developmental systems notion that adaptive developmental regulation—mutually beneficial individual — context relations—are linked to PYD.

A key asset to be provided by the analysis of further waves of data from the 4-H Study is that causality can be modeled, which of course cannot be done by cross-sectional, unitemporal data. Accordingly, reports of the results of analyses of the dynamic influences on PYD of the system of relations within which a young person is developing will be a key contribution of the work deriving from the future waves of this longitudinal study.

In sum, the analyses from the first wave of the 4-H Study provide empirical support for the conceptualization of positive youth development as competence, confidence, connections, character, and caring, for the conception of youth contribution presented in this article, and for the role that youth development programs play in PYD. These findings, together with future publications of the 4-H Study that will be focused on a comprehensive model of PYD, provide important information to scholars, practitioners, and policy makers who have called for a model of the strengths that young people possess. This important work can facilitate efforts to promote and support thriving among young people and their families through applications to community-based youth developmental programs and to broaden and sustain such applications to youth development social policies.

Such policies should be developed to enhance in communities the capacities of families to provide individual and ecological developmental assets (Benson, 2003; Damon, 1997; Damon, et al., 2003; Lerner et al., 2002; Lerner et al., 2000). Within such a policy context, asset rich communities would enact activities (e.g., programs) that would provide young people with the resources needed to build and to pursue healthy lives that make productive contributions to self, family, and community. Such resources include a healthy start, a safe environment, education for marketable skills, the opportunity to "give back" to (to serve) the community, and freedom from prejudice and discrimination (Lerner et al., 2000).

Thriving will more likely emerge when youth develop in such a policy and community action/program context (Benson, 2003; Lerner et al., 2000; Pittman et al., 2001; Roth et al., 1998). In contemporary American society a competent, confident, connected, caring youth, who also possesses character, will have the moral orientation, the civic allegiance, and the behavioral skills to promote in his or herself (and when a parent, in his or her children), behaviors that "level the playing field" for all individuals. Committed—behaviorally, morally, and spiritually—to a better world beyond themselves, such youth will act to sustain for future generations a society marked by social justice, equity, and democracy and a world wherein all young people may thrive.


1. The writing of this chapter was supported in part by grants from the National 4-H Council and by the William T. Grant Foundation. Jacqueline V. Lerner and Elise Christiansen are affiliated with Boston College. Alexander von Eye is affiliated with Michigan State University. All other authors are affiliated with Tufts University. Portions of the theory of positive youth development presented in this chapter have been derived from Lerner (2004). The data presented in this chapter were reported originally in Lerner et al. (in press).

2. The colleagues at the Institute coauthoring this chapter include Jason Almerigi, Christina Theokas, Erin Phelps, Sophie Naudeau, Steinunn Gestsdottir, Lang Ma, Helena Jelicic, Amy Alberts, Lisa Smith, Isla Simpson, Elise Christiansen, Daniel Warren, and Alexander von Eye.


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