Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Youth with Chronic Illness Forming Identities through Leisure

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

Youth with Chronic Illness Forming Identities through Leisure

Article excerpt

People's identities, how they view and describe themselves and others, can play an important role in shaping people's relationships, activities, well-being, and social status. Research has shown that leisure can play an important role in shaping young people's identities because of the perceived freedom of choice and exploration that exists within leisure contexts (Kleiber, 1999; Mannell, 2007). Despite leisure being a context of positive identity development, challenges associated with developing and presenting identities also exist. For example, young people's leisure choices and involvements can be shaped by how others view them and how they view themselves (Kivel & Kleiber, 2000; Shaw, Kleiber, & Caldwell, 1995). When young people engage in leisure, a perceived need to present themselves in certain ways may affect the quality of their experiences (Fine, 2001; Hilbrecht, Zuzanek, & Mannell, 2008). While many young people face challenges in developing their identities, certain population groups may be considered at-risk. One such group is young people living with a chronic illness (Taylor, Gibson, & Franck, 2008). Illness related challenges are particularly salient in adolescence and emerging adulthood because of the heightened pressure at this stage of life to "fit in" with peers, cultural associations between youth and health, and limited experience adjusting to difficult life events (Balfe, 2009; Hilton, Emslie, Hunt, Chappie, & Ziebland, 2009).

Chronic illness can result in disruptions to people's lives because of the physical challenges and stigma associated with illness (Hutchison, Loy, Kleiber, & Dattilo, 2003). However, little is known about the impact of having a chronic illness on the lives of youth, particularly as it relates to how they use their free time to develop identities (Taylor et al., 2008). The term "youth" will be used throughout this article to collectively refer to adolescents ( 12 to 18 years old) and emerging adults (early twenties). As such, the purpose of this study is to develop an understanding of the ways in which leisure is influential in identity development and maintenance for youth with chronic illness.

Literature Review

This study adopts a symbolic interactionist perspective on the concept of identity (e.g., Fine, 1993; Prus, 1996). Specifically, identity refers to how people think of themselves and how they are thought of by others. Through a symbolic interactionist perspective, people's identities are shaped by their decisions and activities, influenced by relationships with other people, and shaped by broader cultural practices (see Fine, 1993 for a discussion of nuances within the perspective and comparisons with other perspectives). Thus, identities are the result of their own choices and the social environment in which they are embedded. As people actively construct their identities, they develop an understanding of appropriate behaviors and seek to display them to others (Mead, 1934; Stryker & Burke, 2000). Although the social environment can normalize the development of identities such that people feel as though they must appear in certain ways, some people resist pressures to conform to social norms and create identities that differ from the majority (Holland & Lachicotte, 2007; Prus, 1997). Consistent with the focus of this study, the remainder of this section reviews the roles that leisure specifically plays in the formation and maintenance of identities.

Leisure and Identity

Leisure plays a role in developing people's identities in at least four ways (Fine, 2001; Kivel & Kleiber, 2000; Mannell, 2007). First, when people connect with others in a particular setting tied to the activity they can develop a shared social or subcultural identity (Fine, 2001; Green, 2001; Snelgrove, Taks, Chalip & Green, 2008). The development of a shared identity tends to develop through prolonged involvement in a setting and involves a socialization process whereby participants learn, adopt, and reproduce the norms associated with the given identity (Donnelly & Young, 1988; Green & Chalip, 1998). …

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