Developing Active and Engaged Youth Citizens: An Examination of Ethical Factors, Demographics, and Problem-Solving Disposition

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Virginia Tech

Thriving youth have the capacity to contribute to greater society and develop independence, mastery, generosity, and a sense of belonging. This development is frequently enhanced through youth programming as ability expansion rather than capacity for authority and community engagement. In Virginia 4-H teen-leadership initiatives infused with positive youth development provide opportunities to bolster active and engaged citizenship (AEC). The purpose of this study was to explain AEC through the examination of ethical factors, demographics, and problem-solving disposition of youth participating in leadership-development programs. This study utilized both person- and variable-centered analyses to develop youth profiles and determine the impact of ethical factors, demographics, and problem-solving disposition on AEC for participants in long-term 4-H teen-leadership programs and short-term 4-H leadership trainings. An ex post facto survey design was used to develop clusters of youth and explain the relationship between problem-solving disposition, demographics, ethical factors, and AEC. The findings indicated that both ethical factors and problem-solving disposition significantly explained AEC for both treatments. Additionally, findings indicated significant differences between clusters for AEC, civic duty, and civic skills. These differences were predominately observed through membership in long-term or short-term leadership programs as well as enrollment in honors/AP courses, gender, ethical views, and problem-solving disposition.

Findings informed the incorporation of community problem-solving in the youth's AEC model. A conceptual model for Youth in Community Problem Solving (YCPS) was developed based on theory and findings. Sociocultural theory and reasoned actioned approach, situated within relational developmental systems metatheory, provided a foundation for the YCPS model. Additional literature on positive youth development, youth-leadership development, self-consciousness, sense of community, and problem-solving disposition was utilized in support of the model. Evidence for the inclusion of problem-solving disposition in the model was found through a recent study with youth in leadership programs. If youth are to engage in YCPS partnerships, both youth and adults should be equipped with the necessary tools and resources for equal partnership, so they can overcome power dynamics and inner team conflicts. Additionally, Youth leadership practitioners should consider avenues for infusing character and problem-solving development in gender inclusive program curriculum to increase likelihood for contribution.

Citizenship, Youth Development, Problem Solving, Character, Community