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Posted: March 1, 2014 10:00 p.m.

4-H forever: Youths respond to high standards of behavior

I love taking 4-H and Youth Leadership Institute youths on trips, because inevitably someone will comment that they’re more mature and better dressed than the adult groups around them.

I’ll have to admit, I think more adult groups should put out suggested dress codes, because what is expected in a given place and situation seems to vary so widely. So our groups have a slight advantage when they go someplace I visit annually and I can put out a dress code.

But even then, I find that they are so excited to visit places like our state’s Capitol that I see posts online the night before about how they already have their clothes laid out (which I can assure you, isn’t normal for most of these teens), and the next morning I find the sharpest-dressed teens I’ve ever seen.

However, what I like most are the comments on behavior.

Are they behaving better simply because they’re not with Mom and Dad? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

I think it comes down to the same thing as the clothing — expectations.

As a youth leader, I set my expectations high and I make them clear. I give youths the opportunity to learn the skills and behaviors I believe they need, and regular opportunities to practice those skills.

And I get amazing results.

I saw a list of suggested chores online recently, and thought it was a great reminder of tasks and skills that children are capable of at very young ages. People were sharing it, but saying, "except I’d never let Johnny do x, y and z at that age!"

Why not? If you’ve been modeling that behavior, allowing them to learn by doing instead of just watching you do it, when you introduce age-appropriate tools, kids really can do a lot of things we forget about.

It might be easier to do things ourselves, but we’re shortchanging children and youths when we do that.

By the time your child reaches 9 years old, he or she is old enough for many 4-H events, including overnight camp. However, parents then seem shocked when they realize I’m not going to follow a child around cutting his food, reminding her to eat vegetables and making sure that her retainer doesn’t get tossed in the garbage.

I also expect a child of this age to be able to request a vegetarian or other special meal with reminders, to carry his own epi-pen or inhaler, and to clean up after herself in the bathroom.

By seventh grade, we allow cellphones at most events. I expect youths to use them only as needed, which may include taking photographs with the phone. It does not include hearing vibrations going off all over the room with text after text, or seeing someone texting instead of paying attention.

It also means they are not to be on the phone the entire ride home; we generally expect youths to actually meet people and talk on the ride.

The frustrating thing sometimes is to watch adults around the youths model exactly the behaviors you want the young people to avoid.

A college professor friend used to worry now and again that he was asking too much of his students, compared with his colleagues.

But looking back on my own school and college career, I know that those teachers, leaders and professors I remember most fondly, and from whom I learned the most, were the ones who expected the most of me.

Terri Kimble Fullerton is a Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at tkimble@uga.edu.

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