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Positive Youth Development

For more than 10 years, 4‑H has partnered with Tufts University to study the effectiveness of its youth development programs.

This first of its kind research study found that 4‑H’s unique hands-on approach gives kids the opportunity to learn by doing and build life skills.

4‑H Study of Positive Youth Development is a longitudinal study that began in 2002 and was repeated annually for eight years, surveying more than 7,000 adolescents from diverse backgrounds across 42 U.S. states.

Beyond the Gap — How American Can Address the Widening Opportunity Gap Facing Young People

The term "opportunity gap" is increasingly being used by organizations and educators to describe how the circumstances in which people are born and/or live determine their opportunities in life. This contrasts with the term "achievement gap" which refers to the disparity in outcomes between lower and upper income children. The widening opportunity gap in America is affected by four key elements — race, ethnicity, zip code and socioeconomic status.

Research undertaken by youth development organizations such as 4-H shows that COVID-19 has exacerbated the inequities our young people face in terms of their mental health, their access to education and their employability — particularly among those who were already experiencing trauma, systemic social inequity and other disadvantages prior to the pandemic.

The paper explains how, positive youth development (PYD) can play an important role in closing the opportunity gap. Given the economic, social and health context in which we live right now, our education, government, philanthropy and civil society institutions must support PYD to mitigate the three key areas that our young people are struggling with — mental health, education and employability. These three areas are discussed in this paper, with recommendations to maximize PYD as an asset to close the opportunity gap and lead young people to greater economic opportunities.

The 4-H Thriving Model by Mary Arnold, Oregon State University predicts that youth who participate in 4-H programs that provide a high developmental context will thrive, and thriving youth achieve key developmental outcomes.

The 4-H Developmental Context

4-H programs done well help youth thrive by:

  • Sparks — providing a place for youth to explore their interests and passions
  • Youth Program Quality — offering programs that follow youth program quality principles with a focus on youth belonging
  • Youth-Adult Relationships — emphasizing developmental relationships with adults who are caring, challenge growth and share power

Thriving Youth Reach Key Developmental Outcomes

Developmental outcomes are indicators of Positive Youth Development (PYD)

Youth who thrive because of participating in 4-H:

  • Academic achievement and motivation
  • Social competence
  • High personal standards
  • Contribution to others
  • Connection with others
  • Personal responsibility

Please visit for information on the history and ongoing development of the 4-H Thriving Model.

The Journal of Extension (JOE) is a rigorous, peer-reviewed journal that brings the scholarship of university outreach and engagement to educators and practitioners around the world. JOE creates opportunities for professionals and students to publish intellectual, creative work; nurtures emerging scholars and new authors for success; encourages professional development; and advances the theory and practice of Extension.

To access JOE please visit

The Journal of Youth Development (JYD), is an open-source, peer-reviewed, quarterly online publication dedicated to advancing youth development practice and research. JYD serves applied researchers and evaluators as well as practitioners who work in youth-serving organizations or the intermediaries that support them.

JYD is the official journal of two of the largest professional associations for those working with and on behalf of young people, the National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals (NAE4-HYDP) and the National Afterschool Association (NAA).

To access the JYD please visit

4-H Headquarters

University of Idaho Extension 4-H Youth Development

Physical Address:
Mary E. Forney Hall
1210 Blake Avenue, Room 206

Mailing Address:
UI Extension 4-H Youth Development
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive, MS 3015
Moscow, ID 83844-3015

Phone: 208-885-6321

Fax: 208-885-4637


Web: 4-H Youth Development

4-H on Google Maps