Positive Youth Development

4-H Grows - Thriving Youth!

4-H is based on a positive youth development (PYD) approach that recognizes all youth have interests, abilities, and strengths that can be enhanced by participation in 4-H programs. Research shows that participation in high quality 4-H programs increases thriving in youth, and thriving youth achieve important developmental outcomes, such as academic motivation and achievement.

4-H as Positive Youth Development Fact Sheet

This fact sheet provides an overview of 4-H and PYD and the four elements of the 4-H Developmental Context.

4-H as Positive Youth Development Standard Text

This statement can be used in publications and other informational materials to describe 4-H as a positive youth development program.

4-H Thriving Model Booklet

This eight-page booklet outlines the model, step-by-step, defines the thriving indicators, and provides strategies for increasing thriving in youth. References are included.

4-H Thriving Model Graphic

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To promote PYD, 4-H programs focus on four important things:

•    Facilitating youth sparks. Sparks are the individual interests and passions that a young person brings to 4-H, for example an interest in animals, or computer science. 4-H provides an opportunity for youth to explore their sparks through programs based on their personal interests.

Youth Sparks Informational Fact Sheet

•    Creating an effective program setting. To be effective, 4-H programs must be physically and emotionally safe, youth must feel welcome, that they belong and matter, and opportunities for structured learning, skill building and mastery must be provided. Programs also grow and change as the young person does, by placing an increasing emphasis on leadership2, civic engagement3, and identity development4 in 4-H programs for teens.

Program Quality Informational Fact Sheet

•    Forming developmental relationships. A positive, supportive relationship between youth and 4-H staff and volunteers is critical to youth development. These relationships are called “developmental” because they grow and change as the young person does. Developmental relationships challenge growth, provide support and encouragement, and, increasingly, share power between youth and adults.

Developmental Relationships Informational Fact Sheet

•    Encouraging youth engagement. 4-H has its greatest impact on positive youth development when youth are fully engaged in the program, especially when youth participate for multiple years in 4-H. Youth should be encouraged to participate in 4-H actively and regularly, as well as participate in extended 4-H learning opportunities at the local, state, national, and even international level.

Youth Engagement Informational Fact Sheet

Thriving Indicators

Research conducted by Search Insitute has identified six indicators of youth thiving. The following links connect to tip sheets that describe the indicator and provide ideas for helping youth thrive in 4-H programs.

  • Openness to Challenge and Discovery. Thriving youth have the desire and ability to explore and try new things and challenges. They also possess a growth mindset that supports effort in learning over innate ability.

Challenge and Discovery Tip Sheet

  • Pro-social Orientation. Thriving youth see helping others as a personal responsibility, and live up to the values of respect, responsibility, honesty, kindeness, and generosity. Thriving youth care about, and give back to, their community.

Pro-social Orientation Tip Sheet

  • Hopeful Purpose. Thriving youth have a sense of hope and purpose, and see themselves on the way to a happy and successful future.

Hopeful Purpose Tip Sheet

  • Transcendent Awareness. Thriving youth are arare of a reality bigger than themselves from which meaning and purpose are derived. This transcendent awareness shapes everyday thoughts and actions.

Transcendent Awareness Tip Sheet

  • Positive Emotionality. Thriving youth are positive and optimistic and are able to manage emotions in ways that lead to health and well-being.

Positive Emotionality Tip Sheet

  • Self Regulation and Goal Setting. Thriving youth set goals and persevere in achieving their goals. They also make self-regulatory decisions that lead to better short-term and long-term success.

Self Regulation and Goal Setting Tip Sheet

Research on The 4-H Thriving Model

Preliminary research conducted in 20171 revealed that participation in high quality 4-H programs helps youth thrive. And thriving youth achieve important developmental outcomes, like academic motivation and success, social competence, and high personal standards.

Youth Thriving - One of the main goals of the 4-H program is to help youth develop a thriving orientation—an outlook and approach to life that is ever growing and expanding in a positive direction.

Thriving Indictors Fact Sheet

The 4-H Thriving Model2 shows the relationship between 4-H experiences, thriving and developmental outcomes:




1. Arnold, M. E. & Gagnon, R. J. (2017). The mediating effect of thriving on youth development outcomes. Manuscript Submitted for Publication.

2. Arnold, M. E. (In press). From context to outcomes: A thriving model for 4-H Youth Development programs. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension. Estimated publication date February 2018.

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