Published in Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, Volume 26, Issue 2, Summer July 1, 2008, pages 4-27.
Youth have been a focus of recreation and leisure programmers for over a century. During that time, assumptions have been made about the value of recreation for young people. More recently, a resurgence of interest has occurred related to positive youth development. The purpose of this paper is to describe the results of an integrative review done to examine research conducted with youth as a focal point in four prominent U.S. based recreation journals over the past 21 years (1985-2005). We sought to discern thematic patterns in topical areas and to review the approaches and methods used. Systematic content and thematic analyses of the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, Therapeutic Recreation Journal, Leisure Sciences, and the Journal of Leisure Research were used. Findings showed that the research done about youth related to some aspect of recreation or leisure in the past ten years eclipsed what was done from 1985-1996. A variety of research methods were used with an equitable distribution of survey, literature reviews, experimental designs, and qualitative methods. The youth examined were primarily mixed gender groups, but boys were twice as likely to be studied as girls when single sex studies were undertaken. Most of the research was done with adolescent (ages 10-18 years) youth. Almost no research has been done in the recreation field related to early childhood (ages 1-4 years). The 11 major themes or topics that were studied in the past 21 years included: youth culture and leisure; leisure programming, treatment, and intervention; research, measurement, and evaluation; demographic factors; management, administration, and policy of youth programs; benefits of leisure for youth; youth and family leisure; recreation settings and leisure spaces; risk behaviors and delinquency; human development and developmental issues; and social behavior. In the integrative review, the focus on benefits and accountability relative to youth programs was obvious. The parallels between social change and youth development were also evident in the review. Recommendations for future research include more evidence-based work that links the program or intervention directly to youth development outcomes, as well as a focus on emerging topics such as physical inactivity and obesity in children, the influence of television and technology in general, youth sport, and the relationships youth have with nature and the outdoors.
Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration