A Review of the Impact of Adventure Programs on At-Risk Youth


  • Stephanie T. West
  • John L. Crompton


Outdoor adventure programs are a form of experiential learning that advocates believe positively impact at-risk youth. These programs are a part of the renaissance of interest occurring over the past decade in the use of recreation programs for the instrumental purpose of alleviating negative youth behavior. After describing the characteristics of these programs and their perceived outcomes, the paper reviews empirical findings reported in the literature that have evaluated whether the instrumental goals are attained. The research falls into two categories: studies that measure the recidivism rates of juvenile delinquents, and those that assess the psychological benefits of participation on self-concept.The results from studies evaluating recidivism rates tended to be positive, with eight out of 14 studies reporting reduced rates of recidivism in their treatment groups. Fourteen out of 16 studies investigating changes in the self-concept of participants also reported significant positive changes. The cumulative consistency of the findings adds credence to the notion that outdoor adventure programs can contribute to alleviating negative behaviors among youth.This support, however, can only be tentative, because an analysis of the individual studies’ designs indicated that the internal validity of many of them was suspect. Other factors contributing to the tentativeness of the support included the different operationalizations used for recidivism and self-concept; a tendency to develop hypotheses ex post facto instead of a priori; and the myopic focus on the notion of self-concept rather than on measuring the impact on multiple protective factors.





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