Adolescent Girls’ Contributions to Community and Society
Youth contribution is important to the development of a healthy society (Lerner, Dowling et al., 2003; Schmid & Lopez, 2011). As youth develop on positive trajectories, they engage in higher rates of contribution to self, family, community, and civil society (Lerner, 2004). Many youth believe it is important to participate in contribution-oriented activities, but not many are involved in personally meaningful forms of contribution (Hershberg et al., 2014; Zeldin et al., 2013). In order to engage youth in contribution, and thereby increase the likelihood that they will continue to contribute into adulthood, it is important to understand the processes involved in contribution, the ways in which adolescents experience contribution, and how they conceptualize their role in giving back to the community. In the present research, I addressed the following questions: 1) How do adolescent girls experience contribution in their lives? (a) In which contribution-related activities are they involved? (b) What beliefs do they have about contribution? (2) How do adolescent girls direct their contribution goals or efforts? To whom do they contribute, or want to contribute? (3) What motivations are associated with contribution goals or efforts for adolescent girls? Through in-depth semi-structured qualitative interviews, I investigated adolescent contribution in nine adolescent girls in high school. This subsample of participants is drawn from the Connecting Adolescents’ Beliefs and Behaviors (CABB) Study (Lerner & Johnson, 2014), a longitudinal investigation of youth character development in adolescent students in the New England area. I analyzed the interviews using the Listening Guide (Gilligan, Spencer, Weinberg, & Bertsch, 2006), a method for analysis of qualitative texts. I derived many themes from these texts to address my research questions. Youth expressed a range of contribution experiences, including how they conceptualize what counts as making a contribution. Participants directed their contributions in accordance with their personal social identifications, their future career goals, and people seen as generally “less fortunate.” Youth expressed multiple intrinsic and extrinsic motivators for contributing and wanting to contribute in the future. Implications for future research, programming and policy will be discussed.