Category Archives: Positive Youth Development

Criminalizing Childhood Independence Can Increase Barriers to Children’s Leisure and Recreation

This week in my Youth Development through Recreation and Sport course, we’ve been talking about the role of parents in children’s development. The discussion reminded me of a news story that was initially reported on in January 2015 in which parents were investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS) for allowing their 10 year-old and six-year old to walk home alone (about 1 mile) from a local park. At the time the story broke, it was the third news story in less than a year that involved parents encountering trouble with the law for their children walking to or from local parks/playgrounds alone or playing in parks/playgrounds without a parent being present. These stories are originating in the United States, but they get press in Canada and Canadian parents’ reactions to the story have been varied. There are those who agree that children should be constantly supervised, those who describe themselves as “free range parents” who allow their children to explore and experience the world without constantly monitoring them, and those who would argue their beliefs and approach to their children’s freedom fits somewhere in between.

childhood independence

These types of stories surprised me. Part of my surprise that a parent is accused of neglect in a situation where his/her child is walking home from a park could be related to the freedom I had as a child. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I was allowed to bike around my neighbour and to friends’ houses by myself or with my younger sister, to walk or bike to the convenience store in my neighbourhood to get a treat with my allowance, and to go to my elementary school playground and play with my sister or friends. That freedom came with opportunities to assess and take risks, to make decisions, to explore, to problem solve, and to actually have adventures to share with my family when asked, “What did you do at the playground today?” No one interpreted my sister and I playing at the playground by ourselves as my parents being neglectful. Doing these things was considered as “normal”.

News stories like the recent one about the Meitiv family who had their children, age 10 and 6, picked up and delivered home in a police cruiser midway through their 1-mile walk home from the park indicate – as Petula Dvorak, columnist with the The Washington Post suggests – that there has been a cultural shift in criminalizing childhood independence. This shift, I believe, comes with a significant consequence to children’s leisure and recreation behaviours.

Increasing Barriers to Children’s Play, Leisure, and Recreation

Some children face a number of barriers to accessing recreation and leisure pursuits. They may be limited to activities or experiences in which their parent(s) can afford to financially support or by their parents’ ability to transport them to facilities for programs. Some parents have irregular work schedules or travel frequently and can’t consistently support children’s regular participation in organized programs. What happens when children are also limited from using recreation resources in their neighbourhoods or communities unless they are supervised at all times? Will stories of parents being scrutinized for allowing their children to walk or bike to parks or playgrounds in their area contribute to parents feeling increasingly uncomfortable with allowing or encouraging children to play independently?

Before the story was over for the Meitiv family, they were found responsible, in March 2015, for “unsubstantiated” child neglect meaning CPS would keep a file on the children for five years. Then, in April 2015, their children were picked up a second time from a local park. A happy ending of sorts came in June 2015, when they were cleared of all neglect charges and CPS revised its policy. Children will not be considered neglected without evidence that while unsupervised, the child has been harmed or placed at substantial risk of being harmed.

Reconciling the Mixed Messages

I wonder how we, as a society, can expect to have success with efforts such as active transportation (e.g., kids walking or biking to school) if we also communicate that it is not appropriate for children to walk that same neighbourhood on their own to the park or playground or local pool.

ParticipACTION produced a commercial that prompted parents to “Bring Back Play”. This ad was targeted at parents who are of the generation in which being out playing and being active was common. But can we really bring back play… play as it was? Is the campaign tag line something parents living within the current culture of parental anxiety and fear about children’s safety can even relate to (O’Connor & Brown, 2013). Perhaps first, we need campaigns that emphasize how safe neighbourhoods are or campaigns that encourage people to get to know their neighbours so that people can feel more comfortable letting their children move autonomously on the streets near home.

The latest ParticipACTION commercial series communicates that screen time limits play time or opportunity and that we (parents/children/other influential adults) need to “make room for play”. The images are, for example, of children playing hockey in an empty parking lot (see video below) or basketball in park court or skipping rope outside. In none of these videos are children being supervised by parents. How might this fit with parents’ own anxiety about leaving children unsupervised or their concerns about how they might be perceived by others if they were to send their child to the part unsupervised. Is the message that it is okay for children to play in the neighbourhood as long as they are in a group?

ParticipACTION Make Room for Play Video

If We Criminalize Childhood Independence…

… then I wonder why we are not criminalizing childhood physical inactivity and screen time. I’m not suggesting any aspect of childhood leisure, recreation, or play should be criminalized. However, if we are going to label parents as neglectful if they facilitate opportunities for their children to develop independence and autonomy, it does not make sense that we would ignore other potential “dangerous” childhood behaviours. For example, while currently working on a revision to its recommendations, the American Pediatric Association has previously discouraged screen use for children younger than 2 years of age. Several studies have produced evidence that screen-time, especially passive television time, can be harmful for children under two. Television tends to have negative effects on children’s language development, reading skills, short-term memory, sleep, and attention/concentration (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013). Children’s declining levels of physical activity are linked with increasing levels of childhood obesity (Healthy Active Living for Children and Youth, 2002) and we are bombarded with messages about the negative consequences of childhood obesity in terms of the short- and long-term health of children (e.g., sleep disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol). However, we don’t see stories about parents being considered as neglectful if they allow their child to watch tv for 8 hours on a Saturday or play on tablets all day. Yet, one could argue, that those parenting decisions could be just as harmful or perhaps more harmful than allowing a children to play in a nearby park and walk home afterward.

The Meitivs seem to be making thoughtful parenting decisions that foster independence and  contribute positively to their children’s development. And, the only risk of walking home from the park – as identified by the police at least – was that the children could be abducted by a stranger. Yet, the odds of that are pretty slim according to statistics Dvorak presents in her Post piece. Fear mongering, in my opinion, does little to support parents in facilitating children’s independence in their leisure time nor does it support parents in helping their children acquire the various assets that are associated with positive youth development and thriving.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). Policy statement: Children, adolescents, and the media. Pediatrics, 132(5), 958-961.

Healthy active living for children and youth (2002). Paediatrics & Child Health, 7(5), 339-358.

O’Connor, J., & Brown, A. (2013). A qualitative study of ‘fear’ as a regulator of children’s independent physical activity in the suburbs. Health & Place, 24, 157-164.


From Play Structures to iPads: What’s Happening to Children’s Play Spaces?

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a news story about a transformed play space at the Guildford Town Centre (a mall) in Surrey, British Columbia. The mall play space went from being a place where kids could run around, climb, and go down a slide, to a place where children can engage in interactive play with…iPads. Parents are not happy, and I don’t blame them. As someone concerned with youth physical activity levels as well as positive youth development, I share some of the same concerns parents do.

iPads for interactive play area

New indoor “interactive play park” at Guildford Town Centre

Mall Response

“More active play and can result in children being hurt”: The mall response was that in their experience providing slides and things for climbing leads to much more active play and, apparently, children being hurt. It seems that the mall is just another example of how risk is being systematically eliminated from children’s play areas. Adults seem so concerned for children’s safety that they feel almost compelled to eliminate any potential sources of danger. Playgrounds are disappearing or are behaviours within them are strictly regulated. Last year, a story surfaced about a New York middle that school banned hard balls like soccer and footballs during recess and would not allow tag to be played without adult supervision citing these activities as dangerous. Other schools are taking out swings or banning games of tag – also perceiving these as potentially dangerous activities. It seems adult fear and anxiety about child safety (and perhaps insurance company’s concerns over liability) is changing the nature of the experience of childhood… in neighbourhoods, on playgrounds, and now, it seems, at the mall play space.

“We’re pleased to offer a quiet play environment for children”: There are lots of times and places where children are expected to be “quiet” – libraries, nap time at day care, waiting rooms at the doctors offices, during the school day, while a younger sibling is sleeping, and while adults are having a conversation and have asked not to be interrupted. Play areas and playgrounds are normally designed to allow children to let of steam and to have fun – to shriek with joy and to laugh and yell, “Hey Mom/Dad… look at me”. This would be especially true, I would think, when toddlers and younger children are out at the mall with a parent. In stores, children are told to not touch and to keep their voices down (or at least this is often what I see and overhear). Some children are in carts or strollers – somewhat confined while their parents try to complete their errands without having to worry that their child will wander away if something catches their eye. The play area is a place parents can take their child to offer him/her a break from parental errands and the restrictions of a stroller or cart. So, personally, I do not see the value or even the logic of offering “a quiet play environment”. If parents want a quiet play environment for their child, I’m sure they’d head to the library or home, but not to the mall. I can imagine that for some children, the mall is a very stimulating place and perhaps there is a need for a quiet space or quiet time after being there, but in reading articles and seeing news clips of parents’ reaction – a “quiet environment” does not seem to be what parents or children need or want.

What Bothers Me Most About the iPad Play Area

Already too much screen time: The youngest generation of youth – digital natives as they are sometimes called – already spend a significant portion of their time in front of a screen consuming media. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average amount of screen time for kids is seven hours per day. The Academy recommends that children under the age of 2 consume NO television or entertainment media because children’s brains develop best by interacting with people, not screens. Why would we want to replicate an experience children could have at home in a public play space? In a society where we are regularly getting failing grades on children’s physical activity levels (Active Healthy Kids Canada, 2012; 2014), why would we want to turn an active play space into a screen-dependent one?

The importance of learning to manage risk: The spread of technology and the fact that it is being designed to engage children from infancy has changed the landscape of childhood has contributed to children spending less time exploring their worlds. Add to that, parents’ anxiety about stranger danger and injuries (Brockman, Jago, & Fox, 2011; Gill, 2007), which is in part a result of messages parents receive in the media and even from public health agencies (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2012a; 2012b) about safety during play, the current generation of children are not given the chance to take risks. Canadian researchers who recently completed a study on children’s play (Alexander, Frohlick, & Fusco, 2014) argue that risk taking is an integral part of children’s play preferences and supports their development. Through risk taking, children get to challenge their abilities and move forward in their development; they explore limits; and they and learn to manage risks and deal with uncertainty – all of which are important for their development into adults who can function in a world that has risks.

Will Change Come?

Alas, despite parents expressing outrage about the Guildford Mall play space – arguing that the play area is not fun for their child, arguing that this doesn’t support the idea that parents are supposed to be helping their children to be more active, and arguing that the installed iPads offer nothing unique from an experience they could offer at home – the mall stands by its decision. Perhaps it is too much to expect that a commercial organization (concerned mainly with making money) might seek to offer something that supported children in moving their bodies and interacting with other children. However, for those consumers who are parents and to whom the play area is important… this decision could hurt the traffic at the mall and retailers bottom line.

References and Further Reading:

Active Healthy Kids Canada. (2012). Is active play extinct? Report card on physical activity for children and youth. Toronto, ON, Canada: Author.

Active Healthy Kids Canada. (2014). Is Canada in the running? Report card on physical activity for children and youth. Toronto, ON, Canada: Author.

Alexander, S. A., Frohlich, K. L., & Fusco, C. (2014 – online first). Problematizing “play-for-health” discourses through children’s photo-elicited narratives. Qualitative Health Research, doi: 1049732314546753.

Brockman, R., Fox, K. R., & Jago, R. (2011). What is the meaning and nature of active play for today’s children in the UK? International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 8(15), 1–7.

Future Foundation. (2006). The changing face of parenting: Professional parenting, information and healthcare. London: Future Foundation.

Gill, T. (2007). No fear: Growing up in a risk averse society. London: Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2012a). Funding to prevent injuries in outdoor play spaces: Fact sheet.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2012b). The Government of Canada supports safe outdoor play spaces.

Rosen, H. (2014, March 19). The overprotected kid. The Atlantic.



Considering Leisure Education Opportunities for Homeschooled Students

The start of the new school year is only a week away. While many children will be going back to a public school in their community, there are about 5% of children who will be learning at home. My nieces are two children who form the homeschool population in Canada. As my sister has shared thoughts as she prepares for the year ahead (one niece in Junior Kindergarten; one in Senior Kindergarten), I’ve become curious about the interaction between homeschooling and leisure. I have very little knowledge about homeschooling – I wasn’t homeschooled; to my knowledge I have only taught one student who was homeschooled in my 12 year career; and I only met two people who were homeschooled. Despite my lack of knowledge, I wanted to take some time to begin a discussion on some of the potential challenges and opportunities for leisure education within a homeschooling environment. I say “potential” challenges and opportunities because there is a lack of academic research on homeschooling and leisure. Therefore, I’m applying my understanding of leisure and how children experience leisure through their traditional pathway of public school in this discussion.


Photo credits to Wel@Home

To begin, leisure education is a process of developing the attitudes, knowledge, and skills

needed to make positive leisure choices (Robertson, 2007). Leisure education is a lifelong process but it is quite critical for young people because childhood leisure influences leisure well into adulthood (Shannon & Shaw, 2008). There are a few key aspects of leisure that homeschooling parents might want to think about and explore.

Opportunities for Socialization. Developing social skills through socializing with others is an important leisure skill and one that is argued to be the a key influence on the quality of our lives and leisure (Mundy, 1998) . Children who lack social skills sometimes struggle to make friends because of challenges in starting and engaging in conversations, listening and understanding, and/or initiating invitations. They may also be challenged to expand and deepen relationships. Ensuring children have opportunities to socialize and develop these skills is important.

I suspect that most homeschooling parents give the socialization of their children significant consideration and look to provide opportunities through various activities for their children to engage with others their age. In some communities, recreation departments create opportunities for children who are homeschooled to come together with others to participate in activities. For example, last year, when my oldest niece with in junior kindergarten, she participated in swim lessons on Friday afternoons. They were offered for children who were homeschooled. What a great opportunity to not only develop her swimming skills, but to also socialize with other kids who were homeschooled. My sister needed to participate in the class with my niece, but for parents of older children, this was also an opportunity for homeschooling parents to socialize with each other during the instruction time.

Obviously, this type of opportunity costs money. However, youth free swims or free skates, library programs, or youth drop-in centres within communities offer other, less-expensive opportunities for children who are homeschooled to meet and interact with others their age. Church communities and neighbourhood playgrounds are also chances for interaction and friendship development. And, some cities and towns have their own homeschool networks or support groups where events are planned to bring homeschoolers together and provide opportunities to connect (my sister and her childhood friend have created WEL@home – a group for homeschoolers in the west end of Ottawa).

Exposure to Diverse Leisure Activities and Interests. In a classroom of 20 or more students in a school of 100 or more students, children have the chance to observe, listen to, and interact with a large number of children. This creates opportunities to become aware of and learn about different leisure activities in which children participate. For example, I did not figure skate, take piano lessons, play baseball, draw or paint, or grow my own vegetable garden at home, but I had classmates who did. I learned a lot about these activities because of the regular interaction with kids who had interests I did not. Since these classmates were not necessarily the friends I spent non-school time with, I likely would not have developed an awareness and understanding of these activities if it were not for our school interactions. I also learned how to play hopscotch, skip rope, play four square, and play marbles because this is what others in my age group were doing at recess and lunch time play periods of the playground. This group of kids exposed me to and taught me different activities that I would not have explored on my own. Exposure is a key first step in developing a large and diverse leisure repertoire. Research suggests that the leisure interests and skills children develop by the age of 10 tend to be the ones they carry throughout their lifetime. Meaning… if you don’t know how to skate by age 10, you’re unlike to do this activity as a teenager, young adult, or parent.

For homeschooling parents, awareness of the importance of this exposure may help them consider ways to ensure their children are exposed to a wide range of leisure activities and not just those activities in which their children express interest. Homeschooling networks are excellent ways to increase the opportunities for homeschooled children to meet and interact with others who may have interests that are different from their own. Facilitating opportunities for children to share what they like to do for fun or to talk about their favorite activity is one way to get the ball rolling with discovering diverse interests. For those involved in such groups, here’s one exercise you might want to do to begin discussions about leisure activities and interests (Find Someone Who…).

Another way of increase children’s exposure is to take them to spectate a variety of activities. Attend high school football, basketball, or volleyball games. Go to a rowing regatta. Keep your eye out for martial arts demonstrations (they seem to occur often at the mall in my city). Get tickets to the community dance studio’s year-end production. Watch sports on TV (I’m a big fan of using the Olympics as a way to increase children’s exposure to various activities). Attend concerts in the park; go to art demonstrations (e.g., pottery; basket weaving). All of these experience create an opportunity to discuss the activity or hobby, explain rules of sports or how activities are done, and gauge the interest/curiosity of your child as it relates to that activity.

Acquiring Leisure Skills. Within a school context, children do experience instruction in a number of activities – art, music, and sports (although the quality of this instruction likely various depending on the school district and the certifications that teachers are required to have to offer instruction).

In the absence of physical education classes, parents of home schooled children need to consider how to develop their children’s physical literacy. While homeschoolers estimated spending an average of 4 hours per week in physical education (i.e., being active), they indicated they spend little time in instruction of fundamental motor skills, team sport skills, or individual/dual sport skills (Gregory, 2005).  A few studies have found that homeschooling parents rely on youth sport program and homeschool support group sponsored physical education for instruction (Baker, 1999; Gregory, 2005; Waters, 1998), however, the quality of that instruction can vary depending on the qualifications of the leaders and may not . Gregory (2005) found that few parents in her study were aware that fundamental motor skills needed to be taught at an early age (they do not develop naturally) and expressed concern that homeschooled children may not be developing the necessary skill for mature, proficient movement. One advantage for homeschooled children is the opportunity to have personalize instruction of fundamental motor skills based on the child’s characteristics whether this is by a knowledgeable parent or by an instructor. Parents can read more in the report – Developing Physical Literacy: A Guide for Parents of Children Ages 0-12.

I see tremendous opportunity for parents to develop art and music skills through homeschooling. My own experience with art in public schools was… well… lackluster to say the least. I really did not develop much of an appreciation for art nor did I develop any real, specific skills. In music, I learned the recorder in Grade 4. I took part in choir. But, I did not learn to read music or play an instrument or anything that created lifelong enjoyment. I participated in dance, but that was outside of school and that’s where my real love of music (listening mainly) came from. I do believe that parents who homeschool have the opportunity to do a much better job fostering leisure skills in the areas of art and music. The flexibility of a homeschooling schedule and the opportunity for one-on-one attention could allow for skills to be explored and talents to be nurtured. If parents can afford to designate money for art and music skills, there may be opportunities to learn to paint or draw; scrapbook; quilt; do pottery; play the piano, violin, or the guitar. These skills may be developed through private instruction (either by a parent with expertise or other instructor), but time to practice and further hone skills can be included within the homeschooling schedule which sends a very positive message to children and youth that developing these leisure skills – that could turn into life long interests – is as important as typical school subjects. I’m all for this type of messaging!

Incorporating Leisure Learning into Traditional Subjects. Homeschooling parents have the advantage of being able to educate their children about and for leisure through their teaching of subjects like math, social studies, and language arts. Math learning can involve examples that relate to travel or sports. Rather than using grocery store prices when teaching about money and addition, costs of various leisure activities could be used (generating awareness). Children can write stories that relate to their leisure – their favorite activity, what they liked about attending a festival, or their best memory on vacation. Social studies offers opportunities to discuss leisure in different places, how leisure has changed over time (e.g., invention of the television), and could even foster leisure planning skills (e.g., what would you need to take on a vacation to Iceland in February; what could you want to do there; how much money would you need to take to do all the activities you might like to do). These are chances to draw attention to leisure and for discussion about what children value in terms of their free time, can generate leisure awareness/knowledge, and develop various leisure skills.

Summary. Homeschooling presents parents with both some challenges regarding leisure (e.g., social leisure; exposure to diverse leisure; skill instruction). However, with an understanding of what might not be accessed through a homeschool experience, parents also have the opportunity to take charge in fostering the development of leisure awareness, the acquisition of leisure knowledge and skill, and an appreciation of leisure’s role and importance in one’s life. I also think it is important to acknowledge that not all leisure-related experiences within school are positive and therefore, for some children, homeschooling means that leisure learning could be designed and delivered in a more meaningful way and in an environment that may not produce some of the negative experiences that are reported in traditional school environments.


Baker, R. K. (1999). Physical education in the home school. Uppublished doctoral disseration, University of Georgia.

Gregory, E. R. (2005). Curriculum and the status of physical education in homeschooling. Unpublished doctoral disseration, Texas A & M University.

Mundy, J. (1998). Leisure education: Theory and practice. Champaign, IL: Sagamore.

Robertson, B. J. (2007). The leisure education manual. Wolfville, NS: Leisure Experience Associates.

Shannon, C. S., & Shaw, S. M. (2008). Mothers and daughters: Teaching and learning about leisure. Leisure Sciences, 30, 1-16.

Waters, G. J. (1998). Homeschool physical education instruction: An initial study. Unpublished doctoral disseration, Florida State University, Tallahassee.

Bullying: A Serious Constraint to Children’s Play

I picked up my local newspaper yesterday morning and was shocked to see a headline, “Bullied boy fears going outside”. Just two days ago, I’d written a post about how engaging children in physical activity isn’t always “easy” and cited bullying as one of the issues children face that can interfere with their participation in physical activity. And here we have just one example. There is a child in my community who may be getting the message to “get outside” and “play outside” and “be active,” and it is clear he’s interested in being outside and playing, but he’s being verbally bullied by other kids in his neighbourhood.


I have a particular interest in this issue because some of my recent research has focused on bullying in recreation and sport settings (Shannon, 2013). Bullying has been studied most within the context of schools, but occurs in out-of-school programs and in various recreation facilities as well (Deakin, 2006; Endresen & Olweus, 2005; Nansel, Overpeck, Haynie, Ruan, & Scheidt, 2003). In fact, almost one third of bullying experiences take place beyond the school setting (Fekkes, Pijpers, & Verloove-Vanhorick, 2005). Unfortunately, very little is known about bullying in these settings and there are no established “best practices” for preventing it from happening or managing it when it does occur. In this particular case, the police have told the mother that there is nothing she can do and “basically told me if I didn’t like it to relocate”. I have to question whether this is either an effective or compassionate way to deal with any issue in a community. Perhaps the police do not clearly understand the negative impact that this form of bullying could have on this child.

Consequences of Bullying

Youth who are victimized frequently report high levels of depression, social anxiety, and loneliness (Juvonen, Graham, & Schuster, 2003); thoughts of suicide (Rigby, 1996); lower self-esteem (Craig, 1998); and feelings of unhappiness (Fekkes et al., 2004). More bullied youth than non-bullied youth report having headaches, sleep problems, and abdominal pain (Fekkes et al., 2004).

Beyond these physical and emotional effects, bullying can be a barrier to participation in recreation and sport programs. In addition to affecting the child’s physical health, avoiding participation in recreational activities may further isolate and stigmatize children. And, if bullying is experienced in recreation settings or is perceived to exist (e.g., the child perceives a threat), the youth who could benefit most from the various outcomes associated with recreation participation (e.g., skill development, enhanced self-esteem, and friendship development) might not be reached. This consequence is of great concern as leisure interests and skills developed during childhood significantly influence leisure interests and participation throughout adulthood (Shannon & Shaw, 2008). Avoiding participation in recreation and sport activities during childhood (including simple activities like riding a bike in one’s neighbourhood) could drastically influence an individual’s leisure interests and skills in adulthood an, in turn, their health.

Tips for Locating Safe Places for Children to Engage in Recreation and Sport

Most parents want to be confident that their children’s physical and mental health will not be compromised while they are participating in recreation and sport activities. While it is more difficult to deal with bullying in one’s neighbourhood (especially if police or the bullies’ parents are not willing to intervene), my research (Shannon, 2013) found that there were some common characteristics of recreation and sport environments that were committed to creating safe environments for youth to engage in recreation. The culture of the organization and the attention they gave to particular program elements seemed to be key. Here are four questions you can ask to gain a better sense of whether an organization is committed to creating and maintaining a safe or “bully-free” environment.

  1. Ask administrators bout the values/attitudes of their organization related to bullying. If they say, “It doesn’t happen here,” be concerned. In my research, some administrators said bullying wasn’t an issue in their programs or facility, but their front line staff – the ones working directly with the youth day-in-day-out – said bullying happened and sometimes often. Those organizations who fail to acknowledge bullying and to develop clear values around creating a safe environment for children are likely not prepared to prevent or manage bullying incidents.
  2. Ask about staff training. Are staff trained to create a climate where youth respect each other? Are they trained in how to prevent bullying, recognize it, and manage it when it happens? Training doesn’t mean that bullying won’t occur, but there is a much better chance that staff will be able to avoid creating situations where bullying might occur
  3. Ask about policies and procedures for addressing bullying when it occurs. If an organization has codes of conduct or specific policies (e.g., call to parents if a child reports bullying), you can feel much more comfortable that they are committed to creating and maintaining a safe environment for your child.
  4. Ask about supervision. Most organizations I conducted research with discussed times when the supervisor to participation ratio was small as a time when a lot more bullying took place. If there are only 2 adults supervising 40 kids at lunch time at camp, it will be more difficult for them to monitor interactions and notice more subtle forms of bullying behaviours. Organizations who were really concerned about creating safe environments, worked to ensure that during unstructured play times or “down times,” there was sufficient supervision and that this time wasn’t simply viewed as a “break” for the youth leaders.

Supporting Youth During their Free-Time

I am distressed by the lack of support this mother and child are receiving locally related to this issue. We argue the importance of children “getting outside” and we talk about “bringing back play”. We have a child who wants to get outside and play and a mother who values this form of activity for her child, but neither appear to have the support to do ensure the child feels safe. It is also bothersome to think that for the kids who are tormenting this child, this is what they are choosing to do with their free-time in the summer. Rather than inviting the child to join in; rather than finding other ways to amuse themselves, they are choosing to harass another child. Perhaps these bullies need some support. Perhaps they are working to feel powerful in their neighbourhood because they are powerless elsewhere. Perhaps they are trying to meet particular needs (e.g., relieve boredom) that they don’t know how to satisfy in a more socially acceptable way.

My hope is that a youth-serving recreation or sport organization has seen the story and offers the child who has been victimized a safe place to play this summer – invites him to the local Zig Zag Playground Program, for example. No child should be stuck inside for the summer afraid to go outside to enjoy the summer weather. But we should not ignore the bullies either. I don’t know their story, but do wonder what is going on with them and how could they be supported in using their leisure time in a way that doesn’t involve harming others? Surely there are other ways to enjoy summer vacation than tormenting others.

When I think about the bullies, I think about the role of leisure education for youth and the importance of helping youth develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that contribute to positive leisure functioning. This can involve helping youth develop skills (including relationship, problem-solving, and communication skills), identify interests and opportunities to participate in activities that are of interest, identify the various needs youth have and how leisure activities and experiences (socially acceptable ones) can meet those needs. Unfortunately, too few youth are encouraged or given the chance to think about their leisure or the relationship between leisure and other aspects of their lives (or the lives of others in this case).


Craig, W. M. (1998). The relationship among bullying, victimization, depression, anxiety, and aggression in elementary school children. Personality & Individual Differences, 24, 123-130.

Deakin, J. (2006). Dangerous people, dangerous places: The nature and location of young people’s victimisation and fear. Children & Society, 20, 376-390.

Endresen, I. M., & Olweus, D. (2005). Participation in power sports and antisocial involvement in preadolescent and adolescent boys. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46(5), 468–478.

Fekkes, M., Pijpers, F. I. M., & Verloove-VanHorick, S. P. (2004). Bullying behavior and associations with psychosomatic complaints and depression in victims. Journal of Pediatrics, 144, 17-22.

Juvonen, J., Graham, S., & Schuster, M. A. (2003). Bullying among young adolescents: The strong, the weak, and the troubled. Pediatrics, 112, 1231–1237.

Nansel, T.R., Overpeck, M.D., Haynie, D.L., Ruan W.J., & Scheidt, P.C. (2003). Relationships between bullying and violence among US youth. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 157, 348-353.

Rigby, K. (1996). Bullying in schools and what to do about it. Melbourne, Australia: Council for Educational Research.

Shannon, C.S. (2013). Bullying in recreation and sport settings: Exploring risk factors, prevention efforts, and intervention strategies. Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, 31(1), 15-33.

Shannon, C.S., & Shaw, S.M. (2008). Mothers and daughters: Teaching and learning about leisure. Leisure Sciences, 30(1), 1-16.

Gift Giving, Caring, and Helping Youth Develop


Two ornaments my husband and I received this Christmas made by children in our lives.

It was a wintery Christmas here in New Brunswick, Canada. Ice storm, lots of snow. We also had some great time with family and friends in the month of December. And, of course, there were gifts. Some of my favorites… the homemade variety we received from some of the kids in our lives – tree ornaments, a s’mores mix, a holiday tea blend. It was awesome!

Christmas tends to be a holiday that is focused on giving and receiving gifts. And, for some children (perhaps many), the focus is on what they want and what they get from others. I’ve been to my share of Christmas events and have witnessed a variety of behaviors in children related to receiving and giving gifts. Some of these behaviors are downright rude (e.g., opening a gift and throwing it aside and moving on to the next gift – with the giver of the gift present). This could be a symptom of children receiving too much and so therefore not appreciating any one individual item. I’m not sure, but I will  admit that over the years, my tolerance and patience for watching this diminishes. Thankfully, I have also witnessed children as young as three years old take time to look over gifts and thank the giver. They display respect regardless of whether the gift is something they wanted or not; something they are excited by or not. I’ve seen the same in terms of gift giving – children who have no understanding of the concept of giving (and this is a concept they can understand and practice at their age) while others are being/have been taught about what giving is or involves and have participated in the process.

Over the holidays, witnessing this range of behaviors in children got me thinking about the 40 Developmental Assets (5 to 9 year-old) and ways in which giving gifts can contribute to or support youth development. The Search Institute’s Developmental Assets include 40 values, experiences, relationships, and qualities that bring many benefits to the young people who have them. Christmas, despite the materialism associated with it, does provide an opportunity to teach children about thoughtfulness, gratitude, giving, and charity. These are all Positive Values – a category of internal assets.

Modelling Positive Values and Caring During the Holidays

Parents and other significant adults (parents of children’s friends; other relatives; neighbors) can teach and model positive character traits such as honesty, responsibility, integrity, compassion, and caring throughout the year. During the holidays, there is an opportunity to model caring behaviors in particular. Donating to charity or choosing an Angel from the Angel Tree (an initiative that often exists in communities where you can purchase a gift for a child or adult who might not otherwise receive anything for Christmas) might be ways to model care. Inviting a lonely neighbor for dinner over the holidays or giving baked goods to others are other demonstrations of care.

Facilitate Opportunities to Care

One of the specific assets within the Positive Values category that children can develop to help them be successful and thrive as adults is Caring. Children should be encouraged to complete acts of caring. They can send cards, tell others they care about them, and around the holidays, they can make and give gifts for significant people in their lives that they care about. Children can even be involved in this process by using his/her own money (if the child receives an allowance) to purchase a gift for a community toy drive or a gift from an Angel tree.

Teaching children to care about and for family members is a good beginning step. Moving forward in helping children to understand that there are children who have different circumstances than them (e.g., have less than they do) and that they can provide some care for those children may be a good next step. Working on expanding to whom children provide care can help prepare them for experiencing or developing other assets such as Providing Service to Others.

Involve Children in the Process

While dragging children on every shopping expedition around the holidays may not be feasible or wise, it may be valuable to take them at least once when picking out gifts for grandparents or siblings or other special adults. It’s an opportunity to help them to understand the notion of pairing presents with people. For example, you could say, “We’re getting this fishing rod for Grampy because he likes fishing”. Children can also help choose, “Do you think your mom would like the red yoga mat or the blue one.” This encourages children to think about others – what others like and what others enjoy doing. There could be lots of teachable moments in these kinds of excursions – discussion, for example, of what equipment is required for fishing or to participate in yoga.

Children over the age of 6 have the fine motor skills to be able to help with gift wrapping. They can pick out the wrapping paper they think the receiver might like. My oldest niece knows my favorite color is yellow – likely no accident that most pictures she draws for me have some element of yellow in it. This year the gift tags for our Christmas gifts were yellow. I can only assume that there was some conversation at some point about yellow being “Aunt Char’s favorite color”. Again, involving children in the gift preparation process is an opportunity for them to think about the people they are giving gifts, what they know about these people, and learn more about them.

Children this age are also old enough to write their names on gift tags and to write thank-you notes for gifts they receive. And they can do more than write, “Thank you for the model train”. They can indicate what they liked about the gift or how they are using it. For younger children that may still be struggling with writing, dictating a note for parents to write can work as well.

The Importance of Asset Development

While Christmas and gift giving is one opportunity to foster or support ongoing development of one or two assets, attention to asset development throughout a child’s life is important. For those unfamiliar with the role that assets can play, below are two graphs that demonstrate the relationship between the number of assets youth possess and their experiences with success and problem behaviors. Bottom line – the more assets youth develop, the better chance they have at being successful and avoiding problem behavior.

Power of Assets to Promote Youth Success

assets to promote success

Power of Assets to Prevent Youth Problems

assets that prevent

Concluding Thoughts

While the holidays may be over for this year, there are many occasions throughout the year when children can engage in thoughtfulness and caring. For example, no doubt family members will have birthdays throughout the year and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day will come quickly enough with spring. Whether you’re a parent, significant adult in a child’s life, or a youth worker, encourage children to be thoughtful about and celebrate others in their lives.

Unfortunately, most of us live in communities facing challenges in which the care and generosity of others is needed (e.g., local food banks). Beyond one’s community, there are those around the globe who need care and compassion and there are organizations such as the Red Cross, Right to Play, and Plan Canada (as examples) that work to support others. Talking to children about what’s happening in their community and around the world (not in a way that produces anxiety in children, but in a way that helps them understand that they can do something to help) can be an opportunity for them to learn about others who need care. This may give them an opportunity to think about how they could help.

Learning to receive gifts appropriately and also to give is a step in helping children to develop positive values and, in particular, caring behaviors. I was impressed by the little people in my life who, while excited about Santa and getting gifts, engaged in giving behaviors that demonstrated thoughtfulness and care for adults in their lives.

Supporting Children’s Right to Play and Recreation

GivingTuesday_Facebook Coverphoto

I wasn’t planning a blog post until after I got my grades submitted (end of term craziness does not support one’s ability to engage in creative thinking or be inspired). However, this morning I became aware of a  new movement – Giving Tuesday and was inspired to think about the need to support play. Giving Tuesday follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday – two days focused on engaging in consumer behavior (some of which may be leisure, but from some of what I saw on the news – it wouldn’t satisfy the “enjoyment” component of a leisure experience for me).

In Canada, over 800 organizations have partnered with the Giving Tuesday movement. It is described as a new movement which focuses on giving and volunteering. From the movement’s website, Giving Tuesday is described as,”The ‘opening day of the giving season,’ it is a day where charities, companies and individuals join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and think about others.” The point is made that we have two days that are “good for the economy” and now we have a day that is “good for community too.”

This may be an excellent opportunity to perhaps “detox” from Black Friday and Cyber Monday and switch one’s focus.

One of the organizations partnering with Giving Tuesday is Right to Play. It is an organization I chose to make a donation to today because play is something I believe every child should have the opportunity to experience. But beyond the donation, I wanted to highlight Children’s Right to Leisure, Play, and Recreation.

Children’s Right to Leisure, Play, and Recreation

Children’s access to leisure, play, and recreational activities is formally recognized internationally as a fundamental right in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The terms “rest, leisure, play and recreation” are not specifically defined, although in examining some of the research and discussion on UNCRC Article 31, it seems there is a consensus that leisure and play include unstructured activities that are generally free from adult supervision. Recreation activities tend to be organized, led, and supervised by adults (e.g., sport programs).

Recognizing the Right to Recreation Means…

Promoting the benefits and being an advocate. There has been considerable research on the outcomes of children’s participation in structured extracurricular activities both within the school context and in their community such as through church groups, community sport participation, and club involvement (e.g., Girl Guides or Boy Scouts). Participation is linked with higher academic achievement, positive development (e.g., developing prosocial values, social bonds, resiliency in overcoming challenges), and healthier lifestyles and lifestyle choices to name only a few. Promoting the benefits helps raise awareness of the importance of protecting this right.

Reducing barriers to participation. Unfortunately, not all children have access to recreation activities. Research shows that a high percentage of marginalized children (e.g., living in poverty, children who are newcomers to Canada, children who are an ethnic minority) have no or very limited access to sport and recreation. For marginalized youth, cost and transportation are significant barriers.

  • Offering time periods when fees are reduced or activities are free
  • If a community or organization offers subsidies to citizens who are low income, ensuring the process for accessing the subsidy is not complicated may be crucial to youth being supported with such programs.
  • Providing transportation (free of charge) to events or activities or working to locate recreation opportunities within neighborhoods (e.g., traveling youth programs where leaders or facilitators visit various neighborhood parks or playgrounds within a community to offer youth recreation experiences).
  • Contribute to organizations such as Right to Play or KidSport (in Canada) which help support children whose families could not otherwise afford their participation in activities. Make a donation or volunteer your time to help with fundraising activities or with spreading the word about the organization’s role in supporting children’s participation in play and sport and therefor their development as youth.

Recognizing the Right to Leisure and Play Means…

Supporting unstructured leisure and free play. A few years ago there was a documentary that aired called the “Lost Adventures of Childhood”. It contained stories of children who were so booked up, they did their homework in the car as they were chauffeured between activities. Other children, young children less than 8 years old, were shown participating in a stress management program. Meanwhile, research is showing that those kids who do participate in lots of activities can start seeing diminishing returns, a phenomenon called the “threshold effect” and benefits of participation begin to level off at about five to seven activities. Children need space in their day and week to be able to engage in unstructured leisure and free play.

Promoting and protecting children’s play. Adults should be aware of the importance of play and take action to promote and protect the conditions that support it. Play is imaginative, creative, spontaneous. Generally play and unstructured leisure are engaged in without a specific agenda including specific outcomes to be achieved. The only agenda is the one set by the child and may be to “have fun” or to build something or master something. The guiding principle is that an intervention to promote play acknowledges its characteristics and allows sufficient flexibility, unpredictability, and security for children to play freely. Providing objects for play or taking children to spaces where they can play helps in promoting play. Telling children exactly what they have to do with those objects or in those spaces may not promote play. Also, find ways to counter the popular, sometimes misguided sentiments that children’s free, spontaneous play is frivolous and unimportant and that structure-based, guided, rule-laden activities initiated and executed by adults can serve the inherent play needs of children.

Providing dedicated spaces for children’s play. Skate parks, for example, are important spaces for some youth. These are spaces where they can be creative, learn skills from peers, and practice those skills. Not all communities provide spaces for youth to engage in this activity. Parks, playgrounds, and youth centres are other spaces in which free play and unstructured leisure can occur. Consider being an advocate for youth spaces when your community is engage in planning activities that may involve spaces that could be dedicated to children’s play activities.

And specifically on Giving Tuesday, you might consider making a donation to support children’s play. Or, you might consider volunteering in a way that will support children’s play.


Minimialism and Positive Youth Development

 Minimalism and Positive Youth Development

As I mentioned in one of my first posts, I’ve been reading and thinking about minimalism for a little while now. Over the last few days, I’ve been preparing an “example” post for a blog my Youth Development through Recreation and Sport class with be contributing to. Not wanting to “steal” a blogging topic that might at the forefront of their minds (e.g., social media, selfies, trends related to the lives of youth that could be connected to youth development), I decided to write about minimalism and its connection to youth development. I enjoyed the processes of using my “leisure” lens and my “positive youth development” lens to explore the concept of a minimalist lifestyle. I decided to rework that post I developed for my students and expand my discussion here.

Minimalism, according to Zen Habits blog host, Leo Babauta, is “simply getting rid of things you do not use or need, leaving an uncluttered, simple environment and an uncluttered, simple life. It’s living without an obsession with material things or an obsession with doing everything and doing too much. It’s using simple tools, having a simple wardrobe, carrying little and living lightly.”

In considering minimalism’s potential contribution to positive youth development, I decided to consider the principles of minimalism and link those with how they may help youth acquire the Search Institute’s Developmental Assets. The Search Institute has done extensive research with young people in the United States and developed a framework of 40 Developmental Assets which “identifies a set of skills, experiences, relationships, and behaviors that enable young people to develop into successful and contributing adults”. These include two categories of assets. First, there are the external assets (support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and constructive use of time). External assets are the positive experiences that youth receive from the world around them – their family, school, neighborhood, sport club. Second, there are internal assets (commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, and positive identity). The internal assets identify the characteristics and behaviors that reflect positive internal growth and development of young people. Research shows that the more assets that youth have, the more likely they are to, for example, be persistent in the face of challenge and adversity, take care of their own health, and be involved in leadership roles. The more assets youth have, the less likely they are to engage in underage drinking, use tobacco, and be involved in violent behavior. These are just some of the powerful outcomes associated with acquiring the assets.

In reviewing the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets, I considered whether youth may be more likely to acquire a particular asset if they were living in an environment that promoted aspects of minimalism. I focus on three asset groups here:

Constructive Use of Time Assets: One minimalist blogger talks about killing the Internet. He suggests that no Internet at home means more time to do meaningful things – read, write, exercise, spend time with friends. If a family with children cut the Internet this might provide opportunities to acquire assets associated with Constructive Use of Time which include the following:

  • Creative activities: Young person spends 3 or more hrs/week in lessons or practice in music, theatre, or other arts
  • Youth programs: Young person spends 3 or more hrs/week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school/or in the community
  • Religious community: Young person spends 1 or more hrs/week in activities in a religious institution
  • Time at home: Young person is out with friends “with nothing special to do” 2 or fewer nights/week (meaning, the youth spends time at home or is engaged in activities aside from “hanging out” with friends)

It is possible that not having the Internet would reduce the amount of time youth are engaged in surfing the Internet and participating in social media activities. This may open the door for more time and opportunity to engage in creative activities such as music or art. If a youth already has the skills or is learning, there would be more time for learning, practice, and enjoyment of that creative activity. Perhaps it would mean more quality time interacting with parents and other family members developing relationships and sharing experiences. The money that was once devoted to Internet costs could be redirected to the young person’s participation in sports or other extracurricular activities. One might also argue that without the draw of the Internet at home, a young person might be more interested in participating in school-related activities (e.g., student council, attending school sports events or activities, volunteering with school initiatives).

Social Competency Assets: Another blogger on the topic of minimalism, Joshua Becker, discusses that less toys for children (something that would be consistent with a minimalist lifestyle) can be very beneficial. He suggests that children with fewer toys have better social skills because they interact more and develop relationships with other kids and adults. He suggests that fewer toys means more sharing, collaborating, and working together. It is possible then that fewer toys could assist in developing two social competency assets: the interpersonal competence asset (the young person with this asset has empathy, sensitivity, and friendship skills) and the peaceful conflict resolution asset (young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently). If fewer toys does indeed increase social interaction, it is possible that from a young age, children have an opportunity to develop and practice skills that lead to acquiring these two social competency assets.

Positive Values: Mike Burns, author of the blog “The Other Side of Complexity” talks about  involving children in decluttering. Getting rid of those things you don’t need or love is a step many families take when working toward living a minimalist lifestyle. He suggests that it involving youth in the process may teach both individual and communal responsibility. One of the positive values assets is personal responsibility – the young person accepts and takes responsibility for his/her behavior. The lessons of decluttering could include the child developing a sense of responsibility to look after what he/she has because there is not an endless supply of “things” or “things” are not being bought all of the time. Maybe there are lessons linked with environmental responsibility – how our consumptive behavior affects the environment (and not in a positive way) and that the choices we make individually (related to consuming and throwing out more and more things) has an impact that reaches far beyond the individual.

Another positive value asset is caring. Caring is an asset whereby the young person places high value on helping other people. Many articles I’ve read about principles of minimalism discuss that higher value is placed on experiences and relationships with others than on things. This value or principle associated with minimalism may be influential in helping youth to learn and gain experience with caring for others. Youth living in a family that practices a minimalist lifestyle may see their parents invest their time in others – neighbors and family, for example. Their parents may be engaged with activities within community groups. At times, their engagement with others may be to share experiences and have fun and at other times, being involved in those relationships may mean providing care. Having parents who model this value and who encourage this principle of valuing relationships and others may help to involve youth in caring activities and develop youth who care.

I’d enjoy hearing about the experiences of those who are raising children while practicing (or moving toward) a minimalist lifestyle. Are you seeing your children develop some skills and behaviors that will help them to reach adulthood with the assets I’ve discussed? What other developments do you notice that are positive?

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