Fun, Activities, and Social Context: Leveraging Key Elements of Recreation Programs to Foster Self-Regulation in Youth
Keywords:Self-Regulation, Positive Youth Development, Community Recreation, scaffolding
AbstractEXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Youth face a number of obstacles during adolescence that can make achieving a healthy trajectory into adulthood challenging. An abundance of literature indicates that the ability to effectively self-regulate is an important factor that helps youth navigate some of these challenges and is predictive of positive development (Dahl, 2004; Masten, 2004). Self-regulation is characterized by the ability to plan, guide, and monitor one’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, and motivation to achieve self-set goals (Zimmerman, 2000). Although evidence shows that a number of youth contexts (family, school, athletics, etc.) can promote young people’s self-regulation skills, there is very little evidence on how recreation programs may act a context to foster self-regulation. Yet, recreation programs are well positioned to serve as an important context that can promote self-regulation skill development in youth. This article examines the literature on self-regulation, youth development, and recreation programming, and offers recreation professionals suggestions on how to support self-regulation in youth. We argue that practitioners should leverage fun and enjoyment, activities that have developmental attributes, and a positive social context to promote self-regulation. More specifically, the underlying developmental qualities within recreation activities that support self-regulatory skills are those that are goal oriented, challenging, and build skills. These types of activities provide the opportunity to engage in the cognitive processing, motivation, and self-directed behaviors that reflect effective self-regulation (Larson, 2000; Watts & Caldwell, 2008). Moreover, the social context within recreation programs provides meaningful opportunities for participants to build healthy adult-youth and peer relationships (Bocarro & Witt, 2003), which this relational mechanism is argued to be the basis for developing self-regulation. The social fabric inherent to these programs is well situated for adults to scaffold opportunities that teach youth how to plan, guide, and monitor their efforts towards achieving self-set goals. Collectively, it appears that both the activities and relational mechanisms integral to recreation programs are well situated to support self-regulation in youth, yet their intentional application to a recreation setting has received little attention. However, if recreation professionals intentionally and proactively work to promote self-regulation, their programs may directly address this critical aspect of positive youth development.
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