Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Self-Determination and Free Time Activity Participation as Predictors of Initiative

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Self-Determination and Free Time Activity Participation as Predictors of Initiative

Article excerpt

Introduction

Increasingly, adolescent leisure research reflects the burgeoning positive youth development movement (e.g., Darling, Caldwell, & Smith, 2005; Sharp, Caldwell, Graham, & Ridenour, 2006; Witt & Caldwell, 2005). A guiding principle behind positive youth development (PYD) is that youth are valuable contributors to society rather than problems or burdens to be managed (Damon, 2004). Pittman, Irby, Tolman, Yohalem and Ferber (2003) best summarized this line of thinking with their contention that simply keeping youth problem free does not make them fully prepared to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Pittman et al. further contended that being fully prepared is insufficient to influence development. They argued youth must be fully engaged to achieve long-term benefits and it is important to understand the capacities and internal strengths that youth need for successful transition into adulthood. The underlying message is that although problems can be eliminated and youth can be taught right from wrong, there is no guarantee that youth will have the capacities to be successful and actively engaged adults. This shift in focus is in contrast to the risk prevention models touted just 10 years ago that were grounded in the belief that it was necessary to combat negative behaviors that threaten society. This challenge to youth development research and practice has stirred interest in developing measures that tap into these internal capacities as well as understanding how these capacities are developed and supported over time (Hunter & Csikszentmihayli, 2003; Larson, 2000; Sharp et al.).

Initiative is one area of interest among youth development researchers. According to Larson (2000), leisure and free time contexts are uniquely positioned to develop the capacity of initiative in adolescents. Initiative is related to autonomous action in Self-Determination Theory (Larson, 2000; Ryan & Deci, 2000), and is defined as the ability to demonstrate internal motivation while directing attention and effort toward a challenging goal over time. Initiative involves the ability to restructure a situation and create enjoyable, interesting, or challenging forms of activity engagement (Larson). These skills facilitate the transition to adulthood which entails, in part, enjoying obligatory activities over a long period of time (Kleiber, Larson, & Csikszentmihalyi, 1986.). Initiative is one manifestation of an engaged individual, and Larson identifies it as essential to the development of such attributes as creativity, civic engagement, leadership, and altruism.

Structured free time and leisure activities are ideal for the development of initiative, because these activities are often perceived as desirable to youth, and offer the support, structure and freedom that other settings (e.g., school, hanging out) generally lack (Larson, 2000; Larson & Richards, 1991). These contexts are often away from the influence of negative influences and distractions that could undermine the development of initiative, and offer connections and guidance to unrelated adults that play a role in supporting youth through challenges and setbacks (Larson, Hansen, & Walker, 2005). Many structured activities feature skill development that is increasingly complex and challenging while providing feedback from others and through activity engagement (Mahoney & Stattin, 2000). These contexts are strongly linked to the development of intrinsic motivation, an internalized state of motivation, which is believed to be a precursor to the development of initiative.

Intrinsic motivation is marked by feelings of free choice, and participation based on positive feelings, beliefs and attitudes about an activity (Ryan & Deci, 2000). When youth are intrinsically motivated, they are more likely to experience agency or the feeling of intentional action (Larson, 2000). These feelings are enhanced through concerted engagement, which is defined as directing attention and enduring effort toward tasks in a context that offers rules, challenges, and everyday complexity (Larson). …

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