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Ohio State University Extension


Involving Teens as 4-H Leaders

4-H Youth Development
Hannah Epley, Assistant Professor, Extension Specialist, 4-H Camping and Older Youth, Ohio State University Extension

Three 4-H teen leaders sitting at a head table in front of a group of youth.Teens go through many physical, mental, social, and emotional changes (Tomek & Williams, 1999). These transitions can sometimes be overwhelming as individuals move from being an adolescent to an adult. The 4-H Youth Development program emphasizes the 4-H Essential Elements, which focus on social, physical, and emotional well-being, while providing opportunities for youth to get involved and develop to their full potential (4-H National Headquarters, 2011). 

In order to assist with the youth development process, volunteers can involve teens as leaders in their clubs and community. Youth benefit from involvement in leadership roles (Brennan, Barnett, & Baugh, 2007; Camino, 2005). These leadership roles take many forms including serving as a committee member, community club officer, committee chair, countywide club officer, camp counselor, junior fair board, teen leadership club member, recruitment team member, ambassador, and others.

A major factor in teens’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the program and organizations in which they are involved is related to the degree of control maintained by adults. When there are partnerships between the two groups, teens’ skills are enhanced and their satisfaction with their involvement increases (Ashton, Arnold, & Wells, 2010; Torretta, 2007). This partnership means teens share a degree of real power and responsibility and mutually work together during the decision-making process.

There are actions adults can consider to empower youth to serve as leaders in an organization (Anderson & Sandmann, 2009). The following ideas are strategies to implement when working with teens to develop partnerships and enhance youth skills.

  • Let teens know what is expected by communicating expectations to them.
  • Give teens guidance, training, encouragement, and the tools they need.
  • Determine the needs, wants, and expectations of teens and do your best to accommodate them.
  • Give teens responsibility and expect them to follow through.
  • Provide opportunities for teens to plan their own programs. This may include community service projects, guest speakers, or project specific items such as career development and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) activities.
  • Put youth into real life, problem-solving situations. Allow them to fully discover ideas, make decisions, and evaluate outcomes.
  • Be open to suggestions and constructive feedback.
  • Show compassion and be dedicated. Establish an environment conducive to peer support. Consider having more experienced members serve as mentors for new members.
  • Respect teens and they will respect you.
  • Be enthusiastic, outgoing, and have a sense of humor.
  • Be aware of what is really going on by being actively engaged.
  • Be fair and reasonable.
  • Demonstrate a positive attitude of confidence and trust.
  • Place emphasis on personal development whenever possible.
  • Encourage youth by helping them to see their positive self-worth. Provide opportunities that help teens explore their identity, values, and beliefs.

Having a positive relationship with a caring adult is one of the Essential Elements of the 4-H Youth Development Program (4-H National Headquarters, 2011). Teens will remain actively engaged if they feel they have responsibility and ownership in their programs. By involving teens and guiding them toward wise decisions, youth develop important life skills and become engaged participants.


4-H National Headquarters. (2011). Essential elements [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from

Anderson, K. S. & Sandmann, L. (2009). Toward a model of empowering practices in youth- adult partnerships. Journal of Extension, 47(2), Article v47-2a5. Retrieved from

Ashton, C., Arnold, M. E., & Wells, E. E. (2010). Participatory evaluation with youth leads to community action project. Journal of Extension, 48(3), Article v48-3iw2. Retrieved from

Brennan, M. A., Barnett, R. V., & Baugh, E. (2007). Youth involvement in community development: Implications and possibilities for Extension. Journal of Extension, 45(4), Article 4FEA3. Retrieved from

Camino, L. (2005). Youth-led community building: Promising practices from two communities using community-based service-learning. Journal of Extension, 43(1), Article 1FEA2. Retrieved from

Tomek, J. & Williams, M.J. (1999). Ages and Stages of 4-H Youth Development. Retrieved from

Torretta, A. (2007). 4-H teen Russian/American international leadership (T.R.A.I.L.): The use of youth/adult partnerships in global education and leadership development. Journal of Extension, 45(3), Article 3IAW2. Retrieved from

This fact sheet, originally published in 1999, was originally titled, “Involving Teens as Leaders” and was written by Kathryn Cox and Ken Culp, both of 4-H Youth Development, Ohio State University Extension.

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Originally posted Jun 9, 2020.