Positive developmental relationships grow successful young people

4-H programs strive to create an intentional and inclusive space where relationships flourish and youth are successful.

Youth creating an agenda for Your Thoughts Matter session
Youth creating an agenda for Your Thoughts Matter session. Photo by D’Ann Rohrer, MSU Extension.

The question, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” has sparked conversations for many years. What about the question, “What came first, the relationship or the learning?” The Search Institute’s SPARK Youth Voices Survey, “Learning Through Relationships,” states that learning takes place through relationships and that having a stronger connection with the teacher increases a student’s motivation to learn. Michigan 4-H Youth Development establishes relationships to nurture the student learning for success.

In the fall of 2018, more than 3,000 youth in grades sixth through 12th completed the SPARK Youth Voices Survey. The results of the survey state that young people are more likely to grow up successfully when they experience developmental relationships with important people in their lives. The Search Institute has identified five elements, expressed in 20 specific actions, that make relationships powerful in young people’s lives.

The five elements are:

  • Express care
  • Challenge growth
  • Provide support
  • Share power
  • Expand possibilities

The 20 actions are:

  • Be dependable
  • Listen
  • Believe in me
  • Be warm
  • Encourage
  • Expect my best
  • Stretch
  • Hold me accountable
  • Reflect on failures
  • Navigate
  • Empower
  • Advocate
  • Set boundaries
  • Respect me
  • Include me
  • Collaborate
  • Let me lead
  • Inspire
  • Broaden horizons
  • Connect

Michigan 4-H volunteers and staff have been working on these elements and actions for many years, and through the relationships these adults establish with youth, they have been well positioned to address community needs when they are expressed by youth. Michigan youth are speaking up through these positive relationships in 4-H and are talking about mental health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health, 7.4% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.5 million children) have a diagnosed behavior problem; 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million children) have diagnosed anxiety; and 3.2% of children aged 3-18 years (approximately 1.9 million children) have diagnosed depression. With these staggering mental health statistics for youth, we need to take action.

According to “What is teaching? A definition and discussion” from Infed, teaching is the process of attending to people’s needs, experiences and feelings, and intervening so they learn particular things and go beyond the given. 4-H is a space where educators and volunteers approach teaching as a process, which includes recognizing and cultivating teachable moments, cultivating relationships for learning, supporting youth as they become independent learners, differentiating learning to meet the needs of diverse learners, and using online resource for learning.

Youth and adult working together on project
Youth and adult working together on project while developing a relationship for success. Photo courtesy of D’Ann Rohrer, MSU Extension.

Across Michigan, 4-H staff will be launching two new curricula to support youth and mental health needs. Mindful Me is a curriculum for 5-to-8-year-olds to learn how to be mindful— mindful eating, being present, finding a quiet place, etc. Your Thoughts Matter is a curriculum for teenage youth wanting to learn more about mental health and create a project to share from their learning. These teenagers are engaged in dialogue about mental health in their schools and community. They are sharing their thoughts and ideas on how to make a positive change for everyone. Michigan 4-H will continue to build positive developmental relationship to grow successful young people.

4-H grows successful youth through positive developmental relationships. If you would like to learn more, visit the Michigan 4-H website. To learn more about youth development programs, contact D’Ann Rohrer at drohrer@msu.edu or 231-845-3361, or our civic engagement leadership team at MSUE.DL.4HLeadership@msu.edu.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

Find other global educational opportunities on the MSU Extension Global and Cultural Education website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension county office.

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