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Linver, M.R.; Urban, J.B.; Les, E.; Xue, X.; Nager, A. Benefits of Participation in High-Adventure Activities for Youth. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 25 May 2024).
Linver MR, Urban JB, Les E, Xue X, Nager A. Benefits of Participation in High-Adventure Activities for Youth. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed May 25, 2024.
Linver, Miriam R., Jennifer Brown Urban, Elaine Les, Xiaofang Xue, Alexis Nager. "Benefits of Participation in High-Adventure Activities for Youth" Encyclopedia, (accessed May 25, 2024).
Linver, M.R., Urban, J.B., Les, E., Xue, X., & Nager, A. (2024, May 11). Benefits of Participation in High-Adventure Activities for Youth. In Encyclopedia.
Linver, Miriam R., et al. "Benefits of Participation in High-Adventure Activities for Youth." Encyclopedia. Web. 11 May, 2024.
Benefits of Participation in High-Adventure Activities for Youth

Positive youth development (PYD) is a framework that focuses on promoting positive youth outcomes rather than reducing undesirable behaviors, often through engagement in positive youth development programs.

high adventure positive youth development leadership

1. Introduction

Positive youth development (PYD) is a framework that focuses on promoting positive youth outcomes rather than reducing undesirable behaviors, often through engagement in positive youth development programs [1][2]. PYD outcomes are often conceptualized as the five Cs of PYD: confidence, caring, character, competence, and connection. Empirical evidence has demonstrated that when youths possess all five Cs, a sixth C emerges, namely contribution [3]. Successful programs that aim to promote PYD typically include the Big 3 features of PYD programs: (1) sustained relationships with caring adults; (2) opportunities for building new skills; and (3) fostering youth leadership opportunities [4]. The Big 3 have been validated across adolescent age [5][6], individual characteristics (e.g., chronic illness [7], youth at risk [8], and ethnic background [9][10]), contexts (e.g., in-school activities [11], community-based programs [12], sports/recreation programs [13], and service-oriented programs [14]), and more recently, cultures (e.g., the Caribbean [15], East Africa [16]; South Africa [17], and Central America [18]). Examples of PYD programs that incorporate the Big 3 include Scouts BSA (formerly Boy Scouts [19]) and 4-H [20]. Some PYD programs, such as Scouts BSA, incorporate “high-adventure” activities.
High-adventure programs typically take place outdoors in remote locations and include several days of challenging activities [21]. Specifically, high-adventure programs are risky, uncertain, and/or unpleasant, and they often require living and cooperating with others while taking on exciting challenges [22]. These programs offer youths with opportunities to strengthen their mental and physical abilities and to overcome difficulties while pursuing individual as well as group objectives. The goals of these programs often include the promotion of youth confidence, humility, self-reliance, and outdoor survival skills [22].
Research on high-adventure programs consistently finds positive outcomes for youths. For example, urban youths in the US who participated in a 3-day high-adventure camp experience demonstrated improvement in social competence and self-improvement capacities [22]. Youths who participated in a 9-day hiking program through the Alps demonstrated lower stress, higher mindfulness, and higher life satisfaction scores [23]. A group of college-age students who participated in an 8-day wilderness survival program (with activities such as hiking, climbing, swimming, and fishing) demonstrated less stress and more mindfulness, self-efficacy, happiness, and life satisfaction compared to a control group who did not participate in the program [23]. Youths who participated in Broadreach, a 3-week water-based adventure program where participants learn skills related to sailing, fishing, and diving, demonstrated increased self-efficacy [24]. Adventure programs likely share commonalities that contribute to their effectiveness in achieving programmatic outcomes.

2. Ten Principles of High Adventure Programming

Most high-adventure programs feature one or more of the 10 key principles that are closely aligned and sometimes overlap with the three defining features of PYD programs: adult–youth connection, allowing youths to lead, and youths learning new skills [21]. The first principle of high-adventure programming is that adults serve in key supportive roles such as mentors, role models, demonstrators of key interpersonal skills, and educators [25][26][27]. This principle is closely aligned with the Big 3 principle of “adult–youth connection”, which has been linked with greater emotional support [28], improved mental health [29], having more fun [30], and an increased sense of connection with others [31].
The second principle is that opportunities in high-adventure settings are holistically challenging, prompting youths to tap into social, emotional, cognitive, and physical strengths [32]. By overcoming tasks perceived to be risky, youths gain confidence to tackle problems and utilize innovative solutions [21]. Challenging settings provide an opportunity for youth to develop increased commitment towards working through challenges for the good of their team, promoting a commitment to performing one’s duty as a citizen [33].
The third principle is that the high-adventure setting must provide a “positive social context” [21]. Diverse, rather than homogeneous, groups create an environment conducive to positive social interactions, and they can help build a sense of connection between and among youths and their mentors [27]. Positive social contexts provide a sense of security, promoting positive socioemotional development and mental health [34].
The fourth principle is that youth have the opportunity to achieve positive development in unfamiliar, outdoor settings [35][36]. In these environments, youths obtain new perspectives on their families and homes of origin, work through cognitive dissonance, and overcome productive anxiety to achieve growth [32]. Challenging nature-based experiences also promote ethical decision making [34][37], leadership [38], citizenship and social responsibility [39], and increased joy and fun [22][40].
The fifth principle is the development of leadership skills and autonomy, which is aligned with the Big 3 concept of allowing youth to lead [41]. Youth develop enduring leadership skills in experience-based settings [38] and develop autonomy by making decisions that drive their outdoor experiences [21].
The sixth principle is that youth work towards a goal and engage in high-quality enriching activities over time [21]. When youth have the opportunity to work together towards a goal, the benefits include relationship building and connection with others [42], as well as greater communication with peers [26].
The seventh principle is the opportunity to gain and practice skills through authentic experiences [43], which is aligned with the Big 3 concept of opportunities to learn new skills [3]. Through opportunities to build skills via novel experiences, youth gain immediate feedback that can be applied to skill mastery and real-life skill building [44]. Skill-building activities in youth programming have been associated with better communication with others [45], more social responsibility, and a sense of citizenship [46].
The eighth principle, reflection [24], helps youth make connections between program goals and transferable life skills [47][48] and can support youths’ discussion and critical thinking skills [36]. Opportunities for reflection in youth programming is associated with a greater sense of citizenship [49] and connection and communication with others [22].
The ninth and tenth principles of high-adventure programs are connections to external contexts and continuous planning and evaluation [21]. Connections between programs and relevant partners such as community resources or schools are the keys to positive youth development outcomes. Effective programs invest in integrating the program, community resources, and families [41]. To ensure that outdoor high-adventure programs maintain high quality and effectiveness, it is important for leaders to consider feedback from diverse stakeholders and adhere to theory-based curriculum and planning [47][50].

3. Youth Programs and Positive Youth Outcomes

PYD-infused youth programs, including high-adventure programs, are linked with a myriad of positive youth outcomes. Below, PYD programs and several key youth outcomes are briefly reviewed: communication, ethical and moral decision making, connection to others, citizenship, purpose, leadership, joy/fun, and cultural humility. These developmental constructs are important foundational characteristics that can prepare youths for a successful transition to adulthood.
Communication allows youths to develop social skills and build relationships [51]. Effective communication has been linked with more positive social interactions, a greater ability to set goals, and higher academic achievement [52]. PYD programs that incorporate communication skills training have been found to be effective in promoting positive outcomes for young people [53].
The active involvement of youth in ethical and moral decision making is particularly important during adolescence, a period characterized by growing autonomy [54]. In the five Cs model of PYD, ethical and moral decision making is part of the construct of character [3]. Programs that emphasize character have been found to lead to positive outcomes, including greater spirituality and overall thriving [55].
PYD emphasizes the importance of fostering youths’ positive relationships and connection to others; connection to others is associated with various positive outcomes, including a more positive self-concept and mental health [41]. PYD programs that promote connection to others have been found to be effective in enhancing social skills and prosocial behaviors among young people [56].
Civic engagement or citizenship skills are a component of PYD that relate to contribution [57]; youths who are engaged in citizenship-related activities report greater self-esteem, social support, and optimism [58]. Programs that encourage civic engagement help young people develop a sense of responsibility and commitment to their communities and promote their active participation in civic life as adults [59].
Adolescent purpose involves the intention to accomplish tasks that are both meaningful to the self as well as to the greater community [60]. Developing a sense of purpose is associated with various positive outcomes, including increased well-being, resilience, and engagement in prosocial behaviors [61]. PYD programs that promote purpose have been found to be effective in enhancing young people’s motivation, goal-setting skills, and overall life satisfaction [3]. PYD programs that incorporate strategies to foster purpose promote positive youth development; these programs help young people explore their interests, values, and strengths and provide opportunities for them to make meaningful contributions to their communities [62].
Leadership is associated with various positive outcomes, such as the development of humanitarian social concern and values [63] and civic engagement in adulthood [64]. Specifically, PYD programs that promote leadership have been found to be effective in enhancing young people’s emotional learning and teamwork skills and in forming ties with community members [65]. Leadership-focused programs can help adolescents develop essential skills such as communication, problem solving, and decision making [66].
Although not typically an independent feature of PYD, joy/fun is part of an Aristotelian perspective that links happiness with leading a virtuous life [67]. Joy/fun is also a key component of intrinsic motivation [68]. When adolescents experience joy and fun in PYD programs, their positive outcomes can be enhanced, including increased overall well-being, resilience, and engagement in prosocial behaviors [69]. PYD programs can help young people develop a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment in their lives, and provide opportunities for them to engage in activities that promote positive emotions and experiences [55].
The concept of perceived cultural humility includes the development of a process-oriented approach to competency, which includes the ability to maintain an interpersonal stance that is other-oriented in relation to aspects of cultural identity that are most important to the person. Perceived cultural humility involves an ongoing process of self-exploration, self-critique, and a willingness to learn from others; it means entering a relationship with another person with the intention of honoring their beliefs, customs, and values, acknowledging differences, and accepting that person for who they are [70]. Programs that promote cultural humility enhance adolescents’ understanding and appreciation of diversity, promote empathy and respect for others, and reduce prejudice and discrimination [71].

4. What Are the Scouts BSA High-Adventure Programs?

Scouts BSA has four high-adventure bases: Philmont Scout Ranch, Florida Sea Base, Northern Tier High-Adventure Base, and Summit Bechtel Reserve. The four bases offer programs that are similar in length (typically, they run for 6–10 days) but differ in their settings and key activities. Philmont is located in the mountains of Northern New Mexico and offers backpacking and hiking expeditions through rugged terrain. Participants carry their own gear and supplies, cook their own meals, and navigate using maps and compasses. Sea Base is located in the Florida Keys and offers a variety of aquatic programs, including snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, and fishing. Participants may also participate in conservation efforts and marine biology studies. Northern Tier is located in the boundary waters area between Minnesota and Canada. Northern Tier offers canoeing and winter camping expeditions. Participants paddle through wilderness areas, set up camp each night, and explore the natural beauty of the region. Summit Bechtel is located in West Virginia and offers a range of outdoor activities, including ziplining, rock climbing, mountain biking, and white water rafting. Scouts participate in programs focused on the development of outdoor skills and leadership. All high-adventure bases offer challenging outdoor wilderness experiences that require participants to work together, learn new skills, and step outside their comfort zones. Because of the unique and intensive nature of high-adventure programs, they can have an outsized impact on youth outcomes such as communication, ethical and moral decision making, connection to others, citizenship, purpose, leadership, joy/fun, and cultural humility.


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