ers (Eccles et al., 1993; Maehr and Midgley, 1996), and community members (Fisher et al., 1998; Scales and Leffert, 1999). In sports-based community programs, for example, a distinctive feature of effective coaches is that they repeatedly emphasized adherence to the rules of the game (Heath, 1994). Finally, a key characteristic of successful community programs is that they have clear rules about expected behavior when in the program, and the staff are regularly involved in monitoring participants’ behavior, even when youth are elsewhere (Dryfoos, 1990; Heath, 1999; McLaughlin, 2000; Merry, 2000; Roth et al., 1998a).
As with all eight features, it is critical that structure be developmentally, ecologically, and culturally appropriate. With regard to age, as individuals’ mature, they need less external structure and control to support their well-being. In most cases, they become increasingly able to create their own structure and to provide adequate self-control over their behavior. Consequently, the exact extent of structure and adult supervision needed to support positive behavior and development will change as children and adolescents grow older. Younger youth need more structure than older youth; older youth may balk at leadership that is too rigid, overcontrolling, or authoritarian. Consequently, structure must permit age-appropriate levels of autonomy. The way this shows up in studies is as a curvilinear relation between structure and outcomes: both too little and too much adult-imposed structure is related to poorer outcomes than moderate levels of adult-imposed structure. The exact optimal point in the curve moves toward less adult-imposed structure as the population being studied gets older (see Eccles et al., 1993, for an example of this dynamic relation in classroom research).
Both neighborhood conditions and culture also influence what is the most optimal level of structure and adult control. Greater limits on behavior may also be necessary in dangerous neighborhoods, where the costs of stepping outside the bounds of authority are higher (Steinberg et al., 1992; Sampson and Morenoff, 1997, cited by Roth and Brooks-Gunn, 2000). We should also recognize that cultures differ in their expectations regarding appropriate levels of structure. For example, in India, a more hierarchical culture than that of the United States, Cub Scout troops define obedience to leaders as a fundamental obligation; in contrast, in the United States, the Cub Scout pledge focuses on “obeying the law of the Pack.”
Much evidence indicates that appropriate structure is a necessary condition to positive development. Without stability and order, adolescents cannot engage in physical, cognitive, emotional, or social growth,