Fun, Activities, and Social Context: Leveraging Key Elements of Recreation Programs to Foster Self-Regulation in Youth


  • Cass Morgan Western Carolina University
  • Jim Sibthorp University of Utah
  • Mary Sara Wells University of Utah


Self-Regulation, Positive Youth Development, Community Recreation, scaffolding


EXECUTIVE 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. 

Author Biography

Cass Morgan, Western Carolina University

Assistant Professor, Parks and Recreation Management, Western Carolina University






Programs That Work