Quality relationships between youth and adults are critical for effective youth development programming. However, not all youth-adult relationships equally contribute to positive development. Of the differing types of relationships, youth-adult partnerships, characterized by opportunities for youth voice and supportive relationships with adults, are associated with positive youth development outcomes. Available research supports this claim finding participation in a youth-adult partnership is associated with outcomes such as greater empowerment, psychological agency, and community connectedness. However, little empirical work has qualitatively explored youths’ experience in a youth-adult partnership and its contribution to youth development outcomes. The purpose of the current study was to understand the experience of youth participating in a youth-adult partnership and how this experience was associated with positive youth development outcomes.
A qualitative case study approach was used to collect interview and activity observation data from 29 youth between the ages of 14 and 18 years old who participated in a youth-adult partnership while implementing a 4-H Youth Development program. Youth were asked generally about their experience in the partnership including what worked well, what challenges they experienced, and how they overcame these challenges. From these interviews and observations, six themes emerged that captured what worked well, including mutual respect, independence or autonomy in teaching, having an adult as a supportive mentor or coach, shared responsibilities or partnerships with adults and peers, friendship with adults and peers, and having fun. Three themes appeared related to challenges including communication, logistics, and preconceived notions of working with adults. Youth responses aligned with the Essential Elements, 4-H’s conceptualization of positive youth development, indicating positive outcomes had been experienced.
Youth-adult partnerships represent one approach for promoting positive youth development while engaging young people. These partnerships have the advantage of being adaptable to a variety of content areas. Findings provide insight into how parks and recreation agencies might design and organize their programs to maximize the effectiveness of youth-adult partnerships. The paper concludes by reviewing the application of youth-adult partnerships to a parks and recreation context, examples of how parks and recreation are already using youth-adult partnerships, and providing suggestions for how to implement this approach in other communities.
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