Effect of Intentionally Designed Experiences on Friendship Skills of Youth: An Application of Symbolic Interaction Theory


  • Mark F. Roark
  • Ann Gillard
  • Faith Evans
  • Mary Sara Wells
  • Marissa Mikami Blauer


Staging recreation experiences, techniques, youth, friendship skills, after-school, developmental outcomes, camp, Symbolic Interaction Theory, Intentional Design, Situated Activity System


After-school programs in which recreation activities are intentionally designed as developmental experiences can yield positive social outcomes for youth (e.g., Daud & Carruthers, 2008; Witt, 2008). Intentionally designed recreation experiences can inspire stronger friendships, stimulate greater interest in supporting peers at school, and increase pro-social behaviors that may continue through subsequent phases of life. The development of friendship skills was the social development outcome of interest in this study. Friendship skills was operationally defined as “perceived skills in initiating, developing, and sustaining enjoyable and socially intimate relationships with other people” (Ellis & Sibthorp, 2006, p. 40). In adulthood, friendship skills are the foundation for successful relationships, finding and keeping jobs, working with others to achieve goals, and engaging as active citizens (Bowler & Brass, 2006). However, in an era of increased focus on academic achievement and testing coupled with tightening of resources due to budgetary constraints, opportunities to build friendship skills are shrinking within school curricula (After School Alliance, 2011). Curricula designed to promote social development have not been sufficiently evaluated through empirical research. To offer evidence that fun and intentional programming can simultaneously occur, fun was measured and defined as perceived enjoyment. Thus, the purpose of this study was to design, stage, and test three friendship skill experiences in an after-school setting. Symbolic Interaction Theory was employed in the development of the experiences. Three content- and process-oriented approaches were used: Durlak and Weissberg’s (2007) Sequential, Active, Focused, and Explicit approach; Rossman and Schlatter’s (2011) Situated Activity System approach; and a General Design approach. Results indicated that these intentionally designed experiences were effective in increasing friendship skills and were perceived as fun. Future research is needed on the effects of such experiences on other developmental outcomes and to determine program-level efficacy, especially related to determining the number of such experiences necessary to adequately detect increases in positive social development outcomes.