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Keywords:

  • Adolescence;
  • moral action;
  • identity development;
  • community service

Abstract

A substantial number of U.S. adolescents currently participate in community service and there is increased national interest in service programs. This article assesses the assumption of developmental benefits to service participants by critically reviewing 44 empirical studies. It offers a theoretical framework for understanding the findings by connecting them to identity development and delineating three pertinent concepts: agency, social relatedness, and moral-political awareness. These concepts are applied to studies that investigate: (1) the characteristics and motivations of participants, (2) the effects of service, and (3) the process of service. The findings support the conclusion that service activities which provide opportunities for intense experiences and social interactions are often associated with prasocial development. The findings also point to the need for more studies focused on particular service programs and on relationships between service providers and those served.