Young people and leisure

Adolescence is often a time of considerable turbulence both for the young person and for those in close association with them. The period may also be one of considerable creativity, experimentation and excitement. Young people explore their environments, look for new ones, sample new experiences -- all in an attempt to crystallise their personal identities which will underpin a transition to greater independence. The paradox in considering young people and their leisure patterns is that while their experience is in one sense universal and phase-specific, in another sense they are incomparably variable; their attention shifts frequently, they like moving from one interest to another, they are highly labile in their behaviour from day to day, if not from hour to hour. Typically, when young people describe their 'patterns' of activity, they may include activities they have pursued only once, and intend to pursue again, or activities they are interested in pursuing in future. In this sense they are difficult to categorise, to pin down, and they tend to react against pressures to organise or plan for them though their malleability is not easy to grasp and is generally lost in reports based on survey data. On the other hand, providers of leisure, or any other facilities, like to be able to classify and predict the behaviour of the populations they are providing for and find it difficult to subsume such a high level of variation in their provision. If they can accept that the 'membership' of groups for which they cater may be highly unstable, their tasks may be eased; there are likely to be sufficient numbers of young people at any given time eager to pursue specific activities -- both to sample the activities and the people there. This may suggest a reorientation to the goals of many providers.

Examining the process of transition to greater independence, in the framework we have suggested, young people are seen as moving along developmental life line, with groupings of significant social influences impinging on them; family, school/work and community. This is a cross-section of the life line presented in chapter 1. Within each sector of this model there are some figures who are close and who entertain personal relationships with the individual (parent, teacher, corner shopkeeper) and others who are more remote, known only through their social roles in organizations (the principal, the club warden) or even through the mass media (a pop idol, a famous footballer or a figure from a novel). Remoteness does not necessarily mean lack of influence; many young people go through periods in which major influences are derived from novels or plays; characters in Tolkien, O'Neill or Dostoyevsky may become very real and influential for them, as many figures in science, sport, religion or the entertainment world. The circles suggest degrees of closeness and each is divided into different spheres of life.

The shape and sizes of the different sectors of the life space vary by individual, as does the way in which they are populated and the influence that a given person or group will have on an individual. People vary in the extent to which they differentiate life sectors.

Most individuals develop categories which cut across those defined in formal terms; for example, people you can trust. Early patterns of relationship tend to carry over and generalise so that individuals who develop basic trust towards early family members are more likely to be trusting in other relationships as they proceed through school and into the broader spectrum of social relationships. Conversely those who have learned that distrust, suspicion and anxiety are prominent among the rules of life are likely to generalise these dispositions. Neither blanket trust nor blanket distrust is appropriate in a complex world. But adolescence is a period in which people and interests are intensively tested out and young people learn to discriminate those who can be trusted from those who cannot; between situations in which effort is worth while and those in which it is not.

Similarly for adults it is necessary to differentiate between different kinds of young people. Knowledge of their developmental experiences allows specific young people to be related to constructively as they are, rather than in terms of stereotypes.

For young people this may be the happiest time of their lives, but many are sad; they often seem frantically busy and impatient with their elders, but as often they impress their elders as idle (in the best sense described by Bertrand Russell) and view their elders' hyperactivity with scarcely concealed scorn; young people are idealistic and they are egocentric; they are sensuous and they are cold; they are engaging and emotionally removed; they are aggressive and they are shy; they are arrogant and humble; they are bright and they are stupid. They are people -- and as such intrinsically variable -- but it often seems that their variations are caricatures of other people's variations. They often seem, in the needs they express, to be a mass of contradictions. Sometimes they seem to need constant stimulation; at other times they seem to need to be bored; they seem to need to huddle together and they seem to need to be alone.

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