Using Recreation to Prevent Violence and Drug Abuse

By Burkeen, Ernest W., Jr.; Alston, Martha Arnold | Parks & Recreation, March 2001 | Go to article overview

Using Recreation to Prevent Violence and Drug Abuse


Burkeen, Ernest W., Jr., Alston, Martha Arnold, Parks & Recreation


Quality of Life

The core mission of the Detroit Recreation Department is to provide quality of life opportunities for the public. That can only happen if we teach people about leisure time and how to productively use it. This educational component in the delivery of recreation services is critical. It enables us to assist our residents, particularly the young ones, to enrich their lives through leisure activities, while avoiding the hazards of negative recreation such as drug abuse and crime.

Defining & Understanding the Value of Leisure

We define leisure as that time when one is not engaged in vocational, educational, or self-maintenance activities (ie. eating or sleeping). We must distinguish between negative and positive leisure activities. The latter includes traditional sports, fitness, and cultural programs. The former encompasses crime, substance abuse, unsafe sexual activity, domestic abuse, and other forms of violence.

Despite media coverage that would make us think otherwise, the negative use of time is not concentrated among the poor. In fact, many of our wealthiest citizens suffer to a greater degree from substance abuse than their less affluent peers. Making matters worse, there is a tendency among the wealthy and middle-class to cling to an outmoded work ethic that totally negates the intrinsic value of recreation. This view holds that leisure is only valid if it is earned, if it is a reward for vocational achievement. Ignored is the potential that recreation has to enrich lives, improve health, increase understanding of oneself and our fellow human beings.

Educating About Leisure

Recreation practitioners must have a different view from those who see no value in leisure. In the words of the sage, "If you give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, he can eat for a lifetime." The same thing can be said for the quality of life activities offered by the providers of recreation services. If you tell a person about the virtues of positive leisure time activities, he may become well informed. But if you teach him how to participate in such activities, he will be able to reap the benefits of that participation: relaxation, skill development, meeting challenges, and discovering the joy of successful teamwork.

Using Recreation to Prevent Negative Behavior

It is important to offer leisure education to our citizens while they are young. Such instruction has been proven to prevent young people's involvement in negative leisure activities. In Detroit, the City Recreation Department has been at the forefront in developing prevention programs. We have placed all prevention efforts under the umbrella of afterschool programming, because most negative recreation occurs after the normal school day. While it is true that all of our afterschool activity programs help prevent youth involvement in crime, substance abuse, and other unproductive activities, the Department has specifically focused on programs that address the prevention of two of the most destructive behaviors, violence and substance abuse.

The Role of Recreation and the Arts in Preventing Violence

The value of using recreation and the arts to combat behaviors that put young people at risk has been well documented. In Looking at Leisure: A Community Analysis of Aberrant Leisure Behavior and its Implications for Society researchers at United Community Services of Metropolitan Detroit found that leisure is a vital part of the lives of children. If properly stimulated through a variety of physical and mental activities and experiences, growth and personal development are facilitated. If, on the other hand, children feel they have limited choices for the use of their leisure time, they may choose to fill that time with "negative leisure activities" such as substance abuse, criminal behavior, unprotected sex, etc.

In Recreating Recreation, the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation stated that its commitment to prevention stemmed from the belief that "problems such as drug abuse, delinquency, violence, school drop outs and teen pregnancy are preventable. …

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