Enhancing the development of a positive self-concept of 4-H members is one of the most significant goals for Montana 4-H youth programs. Positive self image is important because it affects behavior related to all aspects of daily life. It is important, too, to know that a person's self-concept is established quite early in life--40 percent of an individual's mature ego development is achieved by age seven. Though it can always be enhanced or devalued, one's self-concept also requires continual maintenance and support.


Individuals with positive self-concept will aspire to leadership, are willing to receive constructive criticism, and are willing to risk more often. Those with positive self-esteem will tend to be more independent of others, so adults sometimes think they are "rebellious" as they "think for themselves" and resist doing things just because someone in "authority" tells them to do it or because "everyone else is doing it." Associated with positive self-concept and self-esteem is an internal locus of control--a belief that one's success or failure is dependent upon one's efforts, actions, and abilities. They take responsibility for their acts and believe that they have control and influence over the events in their lives. Those with a high positive self-concept accept responsibility for their own actions. They tolerate frustration well, know how to deal with adversity in positive ways, can handle ambiguous situations, feel able to influence their environments, and are proud of their deeds. Typically, those with high positive self-concepts handle set-backs with a sense of control, even when events are outside their influence or arbitrary.


Those with negative self-concepts will avoid leadership roles, criticism, and risk-taking. Individuals with low self-esteem have less ability to resist peer pressure, media influences, and propaganda. Those with a low self-image also tend to have less motivation for learning and work, and generally poorer emotional and psychological health and well-being. They are more prone to drug abuse, pregnancy outside of marriage, to drop out of school, or engage in socially unacceptable behaviors of all kinds, especially acts of delinquency or violence against others. Those with low self-esteem feel more of a need to be loved and to belong, so they are more easily influenced and led by others. They will go to greater lengths to be accommodating and pleasing to others. Many adults will think they are "good kids" because they are "pleasers." But that necessity to please others can also lead to trouble, and negative self-esteem is credited with being one of the major causes of deviant or potentially destructive behavior. They are easily frustrated, blame others for their short-comings, avoid difficult situations so as not to "fail," and are dependent upon others to tell them "how they are doing." Certainly, many of us experience these emotions, but those with negative self-concept have these experiences often and rarely challenge themselves. Those with a negative self-concept frequently have an external locus of control--a belief that they are are the mercy of fate or luck or others than their own efforts. These individuals are quick to blame others for their troubles and rarely feel responsible for their actions: "The Devil made me do it."


How do individuals achieve a high positive self concept and internal locus of control? Today's society is rife with examples of actions which intentionally or unintentionally increase the child's dependency on others and stifle his/her creativity, initiative, reduce self-concept, and decrease the development of responsible decision-making. While the ability of a child to make some of these decisions is certainly age-dependent, some examples include establishing especially extrinsic (external) goals for children without their input, judgmental evaluations of the child's efforts and abilities by others in comparison to an objective norm or to other children, and rescuing the child from experiencing the natural and logical consequences of their actions. Perhaps no where are those actions for creating dependency more prevalent than in schools and in community organizations such as 4-H where others evaluate and publicly proclaim the results of comparison of children's efforts to norms or to other children. Of special concern is the over-emphasis on goals stated in terms of an extrinsic reward such as a grade or a ribbon. Creating "approval junkies" who constantly strive to please adults or others for the purpose of receiving an award or a "smiley face" fosters negative self-esteem and destroys an internal locus of control. These kinds of reward systems--while appropriate in moderation--reduce decision-making abilities and depress a child's natural spirit of inquiry and discovery. There is a lot of information suggesting that what adults (parents, 4-H leaders, teachers) do to set the stage for a child to develop a positive self concept is critically important. Adults can be most helpful as they model and facilitate children's involvement in: