Measurement of Ethical Behavior in Leisure among High- and Low-Risk Adolescents

By Wildmer, Mark A.; Ellis, Gary D. et al. | Adolescence, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Measurement of Ethical Behavior in Leisure among High- and Low-Risk Adolescents


Wildmer, Mark A., Ellis, Gary D., Trunnell, Eric P., Adolescence


Particular recreation and leisure choices made by adolescents may place them at increased risk and predispose them to a variety of delinquent behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, violence, truancy). This is especially the case with youth designated as "high risk." Studies have indicated that adolescent substance abuse, violence, homicide, and death resulting from alcohol-related accidents has reached epidemic proportions (Centers for Disease Control, 1992a, 1992b). Further, 40% of 10th graders have reported being intoxicated during the school year, and 14% of 12th graders reported drinking to inebriation on at least a weekly basis (Blum, 1987), while 40% of high school seniors reported using illicit drugs (Iso-Ahola & Crowley, 1991).

Many multidisciplinary prevention and treatment programs have targeted at-risk youth (Jessor, 1993), but few have included leisure behavior as a salient component. The importance of such a component was revealed by Iso-Ahola and Crowley (1991) who found that adolescent substance abusers described their leisure as boring. Thus, leisure activity and the choices leading to such activity were seen to be important elements in predicting at-risk behaviors among adolescents.

A measure that discriminates the ethical behaviors and attitudes of adolescents with regard to their recreation and leisure would provide a valuable resource tool for research, prevention, and intervention programs. Although the application of ethical theory to recreation and leisure choices has been discussed previously (e.g., Mobily, 1985; Sylvester, 1986, 1987, 1991), no previous research has operationalized this concept. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to create an instrument to measure the ethical component of recreation and leisure behavior that can be used to distinguish between high- and low-risk adolescents. The development of the Adolescent Ethical Behavior in Leisure Scale (AEBLS) was based on an interpretation of the ethical system presented in Aristotelian philosophy. A brief discussion of this philosophy as it pertains to leisure follows.

Philosophical Foundation of the AEBLS

The Aristotelian perspective has endured the test of time and remains respected among modern philosophers (e.g., Adler, 1978, 1991; Evans, 1987; Morrall, 1977). Adler (1991) argued that the best ethical model for modern society is an approach based on the old "treasure of practical wisdom found in Aristotle's moral philosophy" (p. 6).

Aristotle's ethical work is based on the assumption that people should act in ways that will bring them happiness (i.e., Eudamonia or the good life). The Aristotelian or "classical" concept of happiness, however, differs substantially from the contemporary concept. Today, happiness is generally viewed as a positive psychological state (Hudson, 1992). In contrast, the classical view of happiness focuses on individual character and the habit of making right choices throughout life (Adler, 1991; Hudson, 1992). For Aristotle, an ethical life was characterized by the habit of right action (virtue), actions based on reflection, moderation, prudence, wisdom, and justice. Through reflection on life and leisure opportunities, one can make prudent and wise choices that lead to an ethical life.

Friendship is another important component of the Aristotelian ethical life. Aristotle believed that meaningful relationships with family and friends make an important and necessary contribution to the ethical life (Aristotle, 1986; Cahn, 1977). Beyond friendships and right action, Aristotle viewed leisure as the essential and crowning component of an ethical life (Adler, 1991; Aristotle, 1986). Aristotelian leisure includes engaging in speculative thought (theorein) or contemplation while in a state of mind free from the necessities of existence (skole) (Dare, Welton, & Coe, 1987). According to Adler (1991), Aristotelian leisure is defined as those "activities by which human beings learn and grow and thereby acquire one or more intellectual virtues . …

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