Recreation Programming: Don't Forget the Girls

Article excerpt

The reminiscing and discussion at a high-school class reunion last summer included how different life was 30 years ago. Everyone agreed that life was much easier for young girls then than it is now. The early 1960s was a time for idealism and optimism. Although the women's movement has addressed making life better for girls during the past 30 years, many contradictions still exist.

Mary Pipher (1994) in her best-selling and well-documented book, Reviving Ophelia, also described the changes in the lives of girls today. For example, the issues that young women in the 1960s struggled with as college students are today issues that early adolescents have to address -- should I have sex, drink, smoke, hang out with certain groups of people? The changes of the past 30 years are noteworthy in that we may need a different context to understand girls' lives today compared to those in the past. Basic questions, nevertheless, continue to be salient for many girls:

How important are looks and popularity?

How do I care for myself and not be selfish?

How can I be honest and still be loved?

How can I achieve and not threaten others?

How can I be sexual and not a sex object?

How can I be responsive but not responsible for everyone? (Pipher, 1994, p.25)

Psychology has a long history of ignoring girls in early adolescence. In addition, many girls have been excluded from studies unless labeled as "delinquent." Emerging research is now examining the experiences of girls and women. These studies are useful in understanding the value of girls' experiences growing up and remind us not to forget that gender and diversity may affect girls' involvement in recreation.

Although the world has changed through the last three decades, the developmental needs of teenage girls have changed little. All girls continue to need loving adults, decent values, useful information, friends, physical safety, freedom to move about independently, respect for their uniqueness, and encouragement to grow. The challenge to recreation providers is to determine what we can do about detrimental changes that may occur in adolescent girls. At best, recreation programs may curtail the negative trends or at least not make the situation any more complicated than it already is.

Stages of Development and Risk

Pipher (1994) provided an example of the difference between prevention and treatment In a town, many people were falling off a cliff and getting hurt. The two ways proposed to address this problem were to either build a fence around the cliff or keep an ambulance available at the bottom. Treatment relates to the ambulance; primary prevention is the fence. Building fences is the role that community recreation professionals can provide in addressing girls and boys.

A public health model may help us understand youth development and risk factors (Pittman, 1997). This model suggests that there are four aspects of youth development and risk (Figure 1). The overall goal is positive youth development. All boys and girls, however have risk factors in their lives. By taking risks, young people grow. Risk behaviors, however, that become potentially or actually harmful to individuals are problematic and require programs directed at reducing harm. Most youth are capable of positive development, but along the way, primary prevention, high-risk populations, and treatment modalities must be addressed. In the aforementioned cliff example, positive youth development would suggest no need for a fence, prevention is illustrative of building the fence, high risk exists when people crawl over the fence, and treatment (the ambulance at the bottom) will be necessary for those youth who fall.

Primary prevention is important to address with girls because a number of studies (AAUW, 1991; Orenstein, 1994; Pipher, 1994) have shown that something dramatic can happen to girls in early adolescence. …