On Positive Social Norms

Oregon 4-H Youth playing in the Olympic Ring Fountain at Centennial Park in Atlanta while at National 4-H Congress

As I write this, Thanksgiving weekend 2018 is drawing to a close. To be honest, I needed this long weekend more than I ever remember as I my travel and work schedule had me on the road and on an airplane more weeks than not since late August. But this weekend was nothing but time to rest and relax at the beautiful Oregon Coast, and after a few days of good times with family, I am thriving again!

It is only in recent years that I have enjoyed Thanksgiving at home. For the first 15 or so years of my tenure as a 4-H specialist at Oregon State University I was working on Thanksgiving – heading off to Atlanta with a group of well deserving Oregon 4-H members who had been awarded a trip to attend National 4-H Congress. When I first learned that raising funds for, and selecting the youth recipients of those funds to attend Congress, oh and then, wait…. going with those youth for the better part of 15 years on Thanksgiving to the actual event was in my position description, I was a bit unsure. The hardest thing by far was leaving my own family behind. The part I was most unsure of was how I would manage 20 or so teenagers 3000 miles from home.

Without fail, however, the teens I traveled with to National 4-H Congress were outstanding in every way: funny, charming, kind, serious, committed, fashionable (I’m looking at you triplets!), and more than anything, caring toward and for each other. And in all my years of traveling with various groups not once. Never. Was there any problem. I always came home on fire, filled with youthful enthusiasm fueled I am sure by a lack of sleep.

More than once I sat back on the sofa in the suite room we reserved at the Atlanta Hyatt on Peachtree Street and witnessed the youth’s inclusivity and friendship with and for each other. I remembered similar events with my own 4-H club as a teen, and thought about how much fun we had, drawn together by our love of horses and riding, but even more so because we all felt safe and included. And we all knew the rules and what was expected of us, which made it easy for us to relax and have fun.

One of the eight essential indicators of a high quality youth program is positive social norms. This means that youth and adults in 4-H understand and promote a similar understanding of positive expectations for behaving and interacting with each other. This is the opposite of groups that allow bullying, or exclusion. The eight indicators for high quality youth programs come from a big study by the National Research Council, published in in 2002 in the book Community Programs to Promote Youth Development edited by Jacquelynn Eccles and Jennifer A. Gootman.

When I think of my experience as a youth in 4-H, and the social interaction I witnessed in my years taking 4-H youth to National 4-H Congress, I know that this particular aspect of program quality is a hallmark of 4-H. 4-H youth get it. And they live it. And we should strive to promote it always.

As we start our post Thanksgiving week, I thought I would treat you to a video on the “4-H Code of Conduct” created by youth in the Georgia 4-H Program. I love this video because it reveals how deeply embodied the idea of positive social norms is in 4-H.

Enjoy these talented youth and the message they share. And safe travels home to Oregon tomorrow for our 2018 Oregon delegation to National 4-H Congress!

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold


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Very fun and well done! Thanks for sharing.

What a great video! The blog has got me focusing in on 4-H’s positive social norms, thanks!

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