behaviors, as described more in Chapter 6. For example, programs that put together a group of young people who are all already involved in problem behaviors often produce increases in the very behaviors the programs were designed to reduce (Dishion et al., 1999). These negative effects have been interpreted as the consequence of participation in a peer group comprised primarily of adolescents already actively involved in troubling behaviors.
Appropriate structure in community programs for youth includes developing clear and consistent rules and expectations, setting limits, and being clear about behavioral expectations. Settings with appropriate structure have predictability and consistency. The staff develop clear boundaries that take into consideration the age and developmental maturity of the youth involved.
Appropriate structure is often based on the rules maintained by a program. Rules of membership, such as bans on gang colors, weapons, drugs, and alcohol, are an essential set of agreements and understandings; also important are rules about members treating each other and the adult leaders with honesty, and teamwork. Youth report that these guidelines for behavior are elemental to their own feelings of safety and comfort—especially as the program environment provides a safe haven in their neighborhood (McLaughlin et al., 1994).
Appropriate structure is also based on the focus of the program and its underlying curriculum. Many community programs for youth attract young people of varying ages. Programs may explicitly seek to make the curriculum and program activities also reflect different developmental needs.
Programs that focus on supportive relationships provide settings in which youth feel a strong sense of warmth, closeness, caring, support, and guidance from the adult leaders in the program.
Community programs for youth provide opportunities to expose young people to caring adults who challenge them, encourage them to participate in positive experiences, and respect their opinions. Youth respondents to the Community Impact! survey indicated that they desire