Illuminating trajectories of adolescent thriving and contribution through the words of youth: qualitative findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development

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Theory and research in adolescent development have emphasized that contributing to self, others, and community is important to the success of society and predictive of positive youth and later adult development. Despite this emphasis, there is a lack of qualitative and youth-centered research exploring whether adolescents themselves value contribution as part of their daily lives or future goals. Understandings of contribution are, thus, limited in their generalizability. To lessen this gap, we implemented qualitative analyses of open-ended responses from youth in the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development. We addressed questions about what is meaningful to youth and about their future goals through descriptive and thematic analyses of responses from 56 youth (66% female) who participated in the 4-H Study in each of three grades (6, 9, and 12). Findings indicated that most youth in this study valued acts and/or ideologies of contribution at some point in their adolescence, and several were committed to facets of contribution across grades. The analyses also identified other aspects of these youth experiences (e.g., athletics, family relationships, and academic competencies) that were described as meaningful across adolescence. Findings are discussed in relationship to youth programming aimed at encouraging well-being and contribution in adolescence.

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Journal of Youth and Adolescence





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