A comparison of youth-driven and adult-driven youth programs: Balancing inputs from youth and adults



This article examines the unfolding of experiences in youth programs that differed in the degree of youth and adult influence over program activities. In-depth qualitative data were obtained over a three- to four-month cycle of activities in two “youth-driven” and two “adult-driven” programs for high-school–aged youth. All had been identified as high quality, and in all of the programs, the adults were sensitive and respectful to the youth. Rather than finding that one approach was categorically better than the other, our analyses suggested that each provided distinct developmental experiences, and that each presented somewhat different day-to-day challenges to the adults. In the youth-driven programs, the youth experienced a high degree of ownership and empowerment, and they reported development of leadership and planning skills. In the adult-driven programs, the adults crafted student-centered learning experiences that facilitated youth's development of specific talents. Across both approaches, youth also gained self-confidence and benefited from the adults' experience in other ways. The article highlights balancing techniques that adults in both programs used for keeping youth's work in the program on track while keeping youth invested. © 2005 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Comm Psychol 33: 57–74, 2005.