While many measures of youth development are embedded in the discussions above, it is worth mentioning some important independent ways in which youth connect to their social environment.
Youth connectedness to school has been well-researched in the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (Add Health). The degree to which youth feel connected to peers in their school turns out to be highly predictive of their success in school and protective against risky behaviors (McNeely et al., 2002). Similarly, when youth can identify two or more close friends, it is an important indicator of their social adjustment.
Youth who are consistently engaged in extracurricular activities (school-based or community-based) are more likely to enroll in college, to volunteer, and to vote when eligible (Zaff, Moore, Papillo, & Williams, 2001). In addition, youth who engage in volunteer activities have higher levels of knowledge of civics, leadership skills, and tolerance towards others (U.S. Department of Education, 1999). Youth need the opportunity to belong and to build skills for adulthood, both in school and in their communities, and this can be measured both by their involvement in extracurricular school activities as well as in civic and religious youth group activities (National Research Council, 2002).
As youth move toward independence, the safety of their environment becomes increasingly important. A measure of whether youth feel unsafe in school or on the way to and from school can capture this aspect of their environment. Furthermore, a supportive school environment, and a classroom that fosters open discussions where students feel comfortable participating, can actually foster positive development and civic engagement independent of family background (Torney-Purta et al, 2002; National Research Council, 2002). Measures of whether school rules and treatment are seen as fair by youth can also tap into their perceptions of the school environment.