How Adolescents Come to See Themselves as More Responsible Through Participation in Youth Programs


  • This research was supported by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation. We thank the adult leaders and youth of the programs we studied for sharing their experiences with us. All names of programs, youth, and adult leaders in this article are pseudonyms. Small inconsequential changes were made in the descriptions of some youth’s activities to preserve their anonymity. We also thank Donald Tyler for contributions to the analyses for the article.

concerning this article should be addressed to Dustin Wood, Department of Psychology, Wake Forest University, 438 Greene Hall, Winston-Salem, NC 27109. Electronic mail may be sent to


This qualitative study was aimed at developing theory about the process underlying the development of responsibility grounded in accounts of youth who reported experiencing this change. A total of 108 high-school-aged (M = 16.5) youth from 11 programs were interviewed about their experiences within the program, and 24 reported becoming more responsible through their participation. The youth’s accounts suggested that this process was driven largely by successfully fulfilling program expectations. This process was driven by youth’s adherence to their commitments and their consideration of the consequences of their actions on others. Youth mentioned changes in responsibility most frequently in three programs, which appeared to differ from the remaining programs in having more structure and placing greater ownership and accountability on youth.