Leisure in adolescence : youths' activity choices and why they are linked to problems for some and not others

University dissertation from Örebro : Örebro universitetsbibliotek

Abstract: Adolescents spend a great amount of time engaged in different leisure activities. Some of the activity choices they make can put them at risk for negative socialization. In particular, peer-oriented, unstructured activities such as hanging out on the streets or at neighborhood recreation centers have been linked to problem development. This dissertation examined these choices and their consequences. I had four main aims. The first was to examine whether attending youth recreation centers is linked to normbreaking for girls as it is for boys. The results from Studies I and II show that it is. The second aim was to examine why youths gravitate to peer-oriented, unstructured contexts. Study II tested ideas involving family and personality. Concerning family, the idea was that youths who have negative experiences associated with the adult-led family context will gravitate towards leisure contexts that are characterized by the absence of adults. Concerning personality, the idea was that youths high in personality characteristics such as impulsivity and thrill-seeking will be attracted to unstructured leisure contexts that lack adult influence. Both of these ideas were supported (Study II). The third aim of this dissertation concerned moving from structured to unstructured activities. The question was why some youths stay in structured activities whereas others move to unstructured activities. Study III tested ideas involving family and peers. Concerning family, the idea was that youths with negative experiences at home will gravitate away from structured contexts and towards unstructured contexts. The findings in Study III were consistent with this idea. The other idea was that youths gravitate to their peers over time—youths whose peers are in structured activities will stay involved over time whereas those whose peers are not in structured activities will move away from structured activities. The results of Study III supported this idea. Thus, concerning why youths move away from structured activities, Study III suggests that both parents and peers play roles. The final aim of this dissertation was to examine potential explanations why peer-oriented, unstructured contexts are linked to problems for some youths but not others. The results from Studies I and II suggest that peer socialization is important. Girls who attended youth recreation centers and were involved with peers and boys were particularly high in normbreaking. These results held when controlling for negative experiences at home and personality characteristics (Study II). The results of Study III suggest that family relationships are important. Youths with close family ties were less prone to delinquency even if they started loitering on the streets. Thus, parents and peers both seem to be involved in whether peer-oriented, unstructured contexts are linked to problems. Overall, these studies have revealed much about the mechanisms involved in leisure context choices and why they are linked to problem behavior. The lessons to be learned are that to understand the choices youths make about their leisure time and the consequences of those choices, it is fruitful to apply a broader perceptive and consider both the youths’ own characteristics and the social world surrounding them.

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