and they are at risk for the development of negative behavioral patterns. It is notable that Csikszentmihalyi (1975, 1990) found structure to be a prerequisite to engagement itself. To become psychologically engaged in an activity, people need structure and predictability. But too much adult control can drive older youth away. Youth participation is increased when opportunities are provided for them to take on more active roles in governance, rule setting, and leadership as they get older and more experienced in the setting (McLaughlin, 2000; Merry, 2000; we discuss this more in Chapter 5). Nonetheless, without sufficient structure, all the other features of good environments become irrelevant.
Whether you ask a researcher, a theorist, a practitioner, or an adolescent, the quality of relationships with adults comes up again and again as a critical feature of any developmental setting. Researchers speak of the importance of warmth, connectedness, good communication, and support (Blum and Rinehart, 1997; Brooks-Gunn and Paikoff, 1993; Dryfoos, 1990; Eccles et al., 1998; Ford and Harris, 1996; Grotevant, 1998; Lipsitz, 1980; Roth and Brooks-Gunn, 2000). Theorists talk about adults who provide secure attachments, are good mentors and managers, and provide scaffolding for learning (Bowlby, 1969; Furstenburg et al., 1999; Vygotsky, 1978). Practitioners talk about caring and competent adults. Adolescents themselves may use more evocative terms to describe positive adults—like being loving or just “cool” (McLaughlin, 2000).
As a whole, these descriptions suggest a family of related qualities that make for good relationships with adults. They include interrelated qualities of emotional support (e.g., being caring and responsive) and qualities of instrumental support (e.g., providing guidance that is useful to young people). On the surface these appear to be objective qualities, but research suggests that these qualities reside less in the adult than in the adolescent’s perception of the adult and in the adolescent’s experience of interactions with the adult (Clark, 1983; Eccles et al., 1992; Noller and Callan, 1986). This is an important point, because it suggests that there is not one perfect type of adult for all adolescents and all settings (i.e., there is no single template of a good parent, teacher, or leader) but rather that different adolescents are likely to respond to different elements within this family of desirable qualities. This point is also important because it suggests that, inasmuch as there is an underly-