Effective Communication and Youth Development Factors

Effective Communication and Youth Development Factors

two youth holding microphones
Interpersonal communication reflects individuals’ thoughts and feelings, as well as the norms and values associated with their family and peer group, cognitive abilities, age, culture, gender, and the broader society in which the communication occurs. (51) Moreover, the relationship dynamic of the individuals (52) and the goals and objectives (53) of the interaction can impact interpersonal communication. In this review, the focus will only be on biological, physical, and cultural factors that may impact interpersonal communication.


Select each factor to learn more.

As children mature, their verbal and nonverbal communication skills increase. (54) From middle childhood to young adulthood, there is a significant increase in the area of social and interpersonal communication competence and skills. (55) Youth’s cognitive and language development are closely linked to their development of interpersonal communication skills. The ability to ask follow-up questions in fourth graders (56) demonstrate that they’re able to use more complex and engaging interpersonal communication strategies compared to younger children. As children enter adolescence, their cognitive advances improves their ability to see from others’ perspectives and engage in more behaviors that are beneficial to others with peers. (58, 59) Peer relationships in adolescence become increasingly more important as well, and they’re established and maintained through language. (57) Furthermore, research shows that gender differences in interpersonal communication is dependent on the age of the individual. For instance, while female children have better verbal abilities than male children at two years old, males score higher in verbal abilities at ages 10 and 12 years. (60)

Many gender differences have been observed in interpersonal communication, and youth program staff should take these differences into consideration when communicating with youth. Females are more skilled at identifying nonverbal cues than males from an early age. (61) Besides identifying, females use more nonverbal cues, such as eye contact, touch, and expressive gestures and facial expressions, than males who tend to use more direct, results-oriented communication style. (63) Furthermore, female youth are more likely to capture inconsistencies between verbal and nonverbal messages.

In terms of peer interactions, females discuss more about their problems with peers than males as a way to obtain social support. (65) Moreover, children consider same gender peers as having a more responsive communication style, such as paying attention to the speaker and complying with the speaker’s requests, than opposite gender peers; in particular, girls have lower beliefs about responsiveness among opposite gender peers than boys. (66)

The impact of socioeconomic status (SES) on cognitive and language acquisition, and in turn interpersonal communication, is often hard to tease apart from other factors such as race, ethnicity, and parental education level. (67) When parental education level is used as a proxy for SES, research has shown that the higher the mothers’ education level and family income, the higher the language and literacy scores of preschool children. (69) Children from low SES families have a slower growth rate of expressive language from 18 to 36 months, higher rates of impaired memory, and lower rates of cognitive functioning than children from high SES families, which can negatively impact language development and communication abilities. (70, 71) Moreover, children who live in poverty may lack support for school-based language and pre-school literacy development compared to their peers in working-class neighborhoods. (72) These findings suggest that SES can impact language and communication skills but more research is needed to understand the specific role it plays in youth’s interpersonal communication abilities.

The relationship between communication and culture is mutually influential, and it’s impacted by factors such as race and ethnicity. (73) Cultural values influence communication patterns and adult-child communication in various ways. For instance, a direct communication pattern is more valued in individualistic-based cultures, while indirect communication is more valued in collectivistic-based cultures. (73) Furthermore, different cultures may have different expectations of the extent to which adults engage in conversations with children before they’re verbal. (51) There are even cultural variations of how much objects (e.g., concrete nouns) are the focus of conversation with children. (51) In some cultures, children might be expected to talk less with adults compared to when they spend time with their peers and other social situations. (74) However, some research have shown that individual differences play a larger role on communication patterns than cultural differences. (75)



The impact of a given factor (e.g., age, gender, SES, culture, etc.) on interpersonal communication varies widely and inconsistently, multiple factors must be taken into account as youth program staff develop interpersonal communication strategies to communicate with youth and manage their behaviors.