YA4-H! Building Successful Youth-Adult Partnerships


This curriculum has been reviewed and reccomended for use by the National 4-H Curriculum Jury. The curriculum can be purchased from the National 4-H Curriculum Collection ($80)

Youth-adult partnerships (Y-APs) are a foundational aspect of the YA4-H! program for two reasons. First, high quality Y-APs can be a key developmental relationship for youth, thus supporting thriving through care and support, challenging growth, opening new ideas and doors, and perhaps most importantly, sharing power. Second, YA-Ps provide important scaffolding for teens, scaffolding that is critical as teens make their way into increasingly complex adult roles in society.

Arnold, M. E., & Gifford, L. N. (Eds.). (2014). YA4-H! Youth Advocates for Health – Building Successful Youth-Adult Partnerships . Oregon State University Public Health Extension: Corvallis OR.

YA4-H! Building Successful Youth-Adult Partnerships

Establishing effective YA-Ps does not happen without engaging teens and their adult partners in intentional training. This curriculum is ideal for training groups of youth and their adult partners in how to create, develop, and maintain succssful partnerships. The curriculum includes:

  • Ice-Breaker Activities. More than just casual fun and games, ice-breaker activities help youth-adult partners get to know each other and begin working as a team. Ice breakers set the stage for unveiling and understanding some of the road blocks that prevent Y-APs from being successful.
  • An Honest Exploration of Power Balances. Teens and adults need to look honestly at the power differences that exist between them. Bringing these differences to light and identifying ways in which the power differences show up in partnerships brings something that is often unspoken to the forefront. This allows both teens and adults to talk openly about the ways in which power differences are impacting the work they are trying to do together. Exploring issues of power helps YA-Ps gain an understanding of how much influence each side has in the partnership, helps teens and adults understand and appreciate the different qualities each bring to the partnership, reveals ways in which traditional power balances might be shifted, and sets the stage for shared decision making, which is key to a solid YA-P.
  • Understanding Youth-Adult Partnerships. Understanding power differences between youth and adults is not the sole ingredient to forming a successful Y-AP. Additional training is needed to understand Y-APs more fully. Together, Y-APs also need to identify and understand their personal strengths, and some of the benefits and challenges of working together in order to create and maintain equitable youth-adult partnerships.
  • Personal Traits in Youth-Adult Partnerships. Of course, partnerships are made up of individual people. Whether youth or adult, each member of the team brings unique strengths as well as areas that that are not within their comfort zone. Effective Y-AP training also needs to focus helping youth and adults work well on a team by discovering individual preferences and abilities, and developing an appreciation for the skills that each member brings to the team.
  • Reflection, Application, and Evaluation – A final important component of Y-AP training involves pausing for intentional reflection on what has been learned, with an emphasis on the application of learning to real-life settings. This step helps teams identify what they have learned, and what they deliberately plan to put into practice as they go forward into their Y-AP project.

An issue of power

Successful youth-adult partnerships break down the traditional barriers between youth and adults, which allows for a real partnership to emerge. Many of the barriers that prevent youth and adults from working together effectively are due to an imbalance of power. Traditionally, adults have power, and children are taught to defer to that power. Think for a minute about how young children are taught to interact with adults. Certainly there is an expectation of respect, but there is also an expectation of deference to power- meaning that young children simply have to obey the adults in their life, with little room for their decisions! At an early age, children learn to hold tight to hands when walking in crowds and crossing streets. As children grow and are able to navigate their worlds safely with more independence, they become increasingly responsible for making good decisions about their lives. However, the balance of power remains with the adults, and it is not always easy for teens and adults to work together unless this imbalance is brought to light and seen how it plays out in both positive, and negative ways between teens and their adult partners. Adults are used to calling the shots, and teens are used to deferring to the expectations of adults. This can be a difficult pattern to break without purposeful training for the youth and adults partners!

It is worth trying to do so! Research shows that successful YA-Ps can help youth:

  • Develop more mature social and communication skills and be able to resolve conflict more competently
  • Develop skills in critical thinking and creative problem solving
  • Learn to work in collaboration where everyone’s contribution is valued
  • Interact purposefully with peers to initiate constructive activities
  • Develop better verbal, physical, and creative self-expression
  • Identify opportunities to define problems that matter to them, and take action to help address them
  • Make connections with people who serve as inspiring role models
  • Become motivated to work collaboratively with others for a greater good
  • Develop a sense of personal agency and contribution to society
  • Feel that they belong and are valued
  • Develop a sense of purpose and belief in a bright future
  • Develop an understanding of systems of oppression and to create strategies for overcoming them
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