How do children and adolescents use their time? Based on a report from the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development (1994, p.7), 42 percent of a youth's waking hours is spent as discretionary time. How is that time used? Is it potentially a risk" factor or an opportunity for youth?
The well being of adolescents is associated with choices made during discretionary time. To "hang out" may be an indicator of a lifestyle attitude deplete of leisure awareness and the ability to assert responsibility for making positive time and healthful attitude decisions. According to Smith (1991), "Participation in organized recreation provides for the constructive use of free time and develops skills for the management of discretionary time and thereby reduces the need for, and the costs of, providing other governmental and social services that deal with the management of antisocial behaviors after they occur" (Smith as cited in Witt and Crompton, 1996).
The times when youth seem to make the poorest choices related to time use is when they are not in school. Three critical time blocks were recognized by Witt and Crompton (1996) in the themes which emerged from a February 1995 Colloquium held in Fort Worth, Texas on "The Challenge of Shaping the Future: Recreation Programs that Work for At-Risk Youth," sponsored by the American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences at Texas A & M University. The three critical blocks of time recognized were as follows: after school (and teacher training days); summer; and evening/late night (Witt and Crompton, 1996).
Leisure planning and time management are important concerns related to overall well being and quality of life for adolescents. Yet, time management is a work concept (Leitner and Leitner, 1996) and does not often include aspects of locus of control and self determination. An adolescent's ability to perceive real decision-making within structured time is a challenge to leisure service providers. In addition, some people are highly motivated and work more effectively in structured situations. Structure is potentially less threatening than facing large blocks of unobligated time.
One consideration related to structuring time, however, is that youth have typically been put into structured programs designed by someone else. Youth need to have more opportunity to provide input into the planning of organized recreation programs in order to make them relevant to their needs and attractive for them to participate. Some recreation programs are offered based on tradition (or perceived needs) rather than actual youth needs or interests. An example of this occurrence is reflected in the following comment by an adolescent: "It's not fun to be a good kid," remarked a gang leader after signing up for an organized recreation program (Witt and Crompton, 1996). All too often, recreation program offerings fail to meet youth's needs for stimulation, excitement, fun, and challenge, as youth define it.
In light of these and other failings in the attempt to meet the leisure needs of adolescents, it might be useful to turn our attention more closely to the basic developmental needs of adolescents. Concepts which may prove to be useful to the leisure field regarding adolescent development have been articulated in research edited by Worell and Danner (1989b). Given the research which has demonstrated the important connections between self-determination, choice, perceived control and freedom, and social support as these factors contribute to one's health and well being (Langer and Rodin, 1976; Deci and Ryan, 1987; Coleman and Iso-Ahola, 1993), it follows that related skills which advance these attributes might be worth inculcating in youth. Worell and Danner (1989a; 1989b) provide some insights related to assisting the development of adolescents into responsible adults by crafting and exposing them to opportunities for problem-solving, the identification of choices, and decision making. …