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Leisure Activities Choices among Adolescents
Article · December 2015
DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.26003-0
2 authors:
Maria K. Pavlova
Rainer K Silbereisen
Universität Vechta
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
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Leisure Activities Choices among Adolescents
Maria K. Pavlova and Rainer K. Silbereisen
Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany
Maria K. Pavlova, Center for Applied Developmental Science (CADS), Friedrich Schiller
University Jena, Germany
E-mail: maria.pavlova@uni-jena.de
Corresponding author: Rainer K. Silbereisen, Center for Applied Developmental Science
(CADS), Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany
Semmelweisstr. 12, 07743 Jena, Germany, tel. +49 3641 945911, fax +49 3641 945912
E-mail: rainer.silbereisen@uni-jena.de
NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in
Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition. Changes resulting from the
publishing process, such as editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality
control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to
this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently
published in Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Volume 13, pp.
829-836. doi:10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.26003-0
In this chapter, we provide descriptive time-use data on adolescent leisure. Next, we link
normative developmental tasks or concerns of adolescence to the context of leisure. We then
outline other, non-developmental factors of adolescents’ leisure participation, such as
external constraints, individual motivation, and personality differences. Finally, we review
the methods used to assess leisure participation and motivation in adolescence, touch upon
the implications of leisure for adolescent health and development, and outline possible
avenues of intervention.
Keywords: adolescence; constraints to leisure; extracurricular activities; hedonic and
eudaimonic enjoyment; leisure activities; leisure motivation; leisure participation; optimal
experience; time use; youth subcultures.
Leisure is typically understood by researchers as freely chosen and enjoyable
activities that are pursued during one’s discretionary time (Kleiber, 1999). Adolescence (here
loosely defined as the second decade of life) is a developmental period when growing
autonomy fosters (and is fostered by) independent decision-making, making the study of
leisure choices particularly relevant. However, beyond individual choices, sociologists,
psychologists, and researchers in tourism and recreation have studied a broader spectrum of
reasons or causes underlying participation in particular leisure activities. In this chapter, we
summarize these diverse perspectives. First, we describe time-use data on adolescents’
leisure behaviors. Second, we classify leisure activities in terms of the common psychological
functions of leisure. Third, we link normative developmental tasks or concerns of
adolescence to the context of leisure. Fourth, we summarize potential non-developmental
influences on adolescents’ leisure participation. Finally, we review the methods used to
assess leisure participation and motivation in adolescence, the implications of leisure for
adolescent health and development, and possible avenues of intervention. As the relevant
literature is predominantly based on Western, mostly U.S., populations, our review represents
these populations better than the rest of the world, but we introduce a cross-cultural
perspective wherever possible.
Leisure Time Use in Adolescence
Leisure time available to adolescents varies across regions of the world, due to
differences in school enrollment, in the hours spent in school, and in adolescent involvement
in productive work (Larson and Verma, 1999). Working adolescents from nonindustrial,
unschooled populations report having 4-7 free hours/day; across European nations,
adolescent daily leisure time amounts to 5.5-7.5 hours/day; in East Asian postindustrial
countries where school achievement is important (Nishino and Larson, 2003), adolescents
have only 4-5.5 free hours/day (estimates averaged across school days and weekends; more
recent data are not available for these countries). By far, U.S. adolescents enjoy the largest
amount of free time: Older adolescents have approximately 8 hours/day, whereas older
Canadian adolescents report having 6 free hours/day.
Most prevalent activities. Where television and other mass media are widely
accessible, electronic media use (passive activities, such as watching TV and listening to
music, as well as more mentally challenging undertakings, such as Internet surfing, video
games, and communicating with others) is the most popular leisure activities among
adolescents: In the USA, for example, a Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed 4 hours per
day spent watching TV, 3 hours spent using computer, 3 hours of music listening, 2 hours of
talking and texting via cell phones, and 0.5 hour of reading. About a quarter of this time
involves multitasking - using more than one medium at a time; thus, pure media consumption
is less than suggested by these estimates.
A sizable portion of adolescent free time is spent in public places, such as parks,
cafes, movie theaters, and shopping malls, and at somebody else’s home. Visiting, hanging
out, shopping, and dating, all forms of socializing, mostly with peers, account for 1-1.5 hours
of adolescents’ daily leisure time in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. However, in Islamic and
East Asian societies, where adults impose restrictions on adolescent peer interactions and do
not encourage seemingly purposeless pastime, considerably less time is spent socializing with
peers, especially other-sex peers.
Sports and other forms of physical activity are also popular, accounting for more than
1 hour of free time in the U.S. and Norway, 0.5-1 hour in Europe, Canada, and Australia, and
less than 0.5 hour in East Asian countries. Higher levels of physical activity are common in
rural, nonindustrial populations because of ample opportunities to work or play outdoors.
In urban regions and postindustrial countries, adolescents can take part in structured
extracurricular activities such as organized sports, school clubs or youth organizations,
performing arts opportunities, and volunteering (Mahoney, Larson and Eccles, 2005). Despite
the variety of options and the fact that adolescents can engage in more than one
extracurricular activity at a time, such activities take less than 0.5 hours of daily time even in
the U.S., where extracurricular programming is most developed, partly because not all
adolescents participate in such programs. In less affluent regions or in societies where
adolescents are supposed to spend the better part of their free time with the family,
extracurricular activities are uncommon.
Various productive and intellectual activities, such as performing arts, playing chess,
gardening, and cooking, may be pursued individually (or at least not in structured settings) as
hobbies. Time use estimates are difficult to obtain here because of the unsupervised and
unsystematic nature of many such activities, but available evidence suggests that they take a
relatively small proportion of adolescents’ time on average. For instance, time playing a
musical instrument ranges from 5 to 30 min per school day in the U.S. and Europe. Finally,
although it is disputable whether religious activities, praying in particular, should be regarded
as leisure or rather as obligatory activities, they constitute a salient time use category in
religious populations, accounting for nearly 10 min of adolescent time daily in the U.S. and
Canada and more than 1 hour/day in Indonesia.
A sizable proportion of adolescents’ waking hours is spent alone (20-25% in rural
regions and 30-35% in urban regions). These estimates include time spent on homework and
self-care, and perhaps on what could be considered leisure activities. Time alone is most
often spent in one’s own bedroom (if one has a private bedroom), although solitary walks are
also quite common where the neighborhood is safe and attractive natural settings are
Activity portfolios. Studies conducted in the U.S. typically yield two opposite
patterns of activity participation: Highly involved adolescents report being engaged in many
activity domains (doing sports and taking part in other extracurricular activities, socializing
with peers, reading, using electronic media, etc.) and sometimes also working for pay. In
contrast, uninvolved adolescents are usually not employed and report predominantly
unstructured and rather passive leisure activities, such as watching TV, hanging out with
friends and sometimes pursuing individual hobbies. The highly involved group includes 11%
to more than 50% of adolescents, depending on the number of activities taken into account.
The uninvolved group makes up 12% to 25% of adolescents studied. Between these two
extremes, a large number of adolescents focus on one or two activity domains. Across the
board, socializing with peers is very common, with only a very small minority of adolescents
reporting little or no peer interaction.
Demographic differences. Because of their typically heavier domestic workload and
greater diligence at school in many countries, female adolescents report having less
discretionary time than male adolescents. Female adolescents also tend to engage in different
leisure pursuits than their male peers do. Across societies, female adolescents spent less time
than their male peers participating in sports, playing video games and watching TV, but more
time reading and engaging in performing arts. In Western societies with little restriction on
peer interactions, females devote more time than males to socializing with peers. In contrast,
in Islamic and East Asian countries, female adolescents spend less time with peers than
In the U.S., marked racial and ethnic differences also exist: Latino and African
American adolescents, who are often economically disadvantaged, are less likely to
participate in extracurricular activities than European American adolescents and spend more
time watching TV. African American adolescents are particularly less involved in sports and
spend more free time with family members and less time with peers than European American
As regards age differences, in Western samples, there is a decline in TV viewing from
early to late adolescence in favor of music listening and talking on the phone and a decrease
in sports and other organized activity participation and time spent with the family in favor of
unsupervised time spent alone and with peers.
Leisure Types and Functions
Various leisure types have been described. One dichotomy is between active and
passive leisure. Active leisure involves some challenge, combines effort and enjoyment, and
thereby brings opportunities for learning and skill building, be it social, musical, motor, or
any other skills and competencies. Passive leisure encompasses a broad range of
nonchallenging activities, from watching entertainment programs on TV to idling. Its main
functions are pleasure, relaxation (often in the context of coping with stress; Nishino and
Larson, 2003), and filling free time. A more narrow distinction, used in the public health
literature, is between physically active and sedentary leisure.
Stebbins (2007) divided leisure into casual, serious, and project-based activities:
Serious leisure activities are skill-based, require considerable effort and persistence, and
provide durable benefits, such as self-actualization, self-expression, and self-enrichment, as
well as identification with a group of like-minded people and social recognition. Projectbased leisure includes short-term, moderately complicated, creative undertakings that require
planning, effort, and skill but are not associated with a long-term commitment. Finally, casual
leisure includes pleasurable activities that require little special training to enjoy them. Apart
from its purely hedonic and recreational functions, it fosters the development and
maintenance of interpersonal relationships, as many social interactions occur in the context of
casual leisure (e.g., a family dinner).
A conceptually similar distinction has been made between structured and unstructured
leisure during childhood and adolescence. Structured leisure occurs in organized settings,
such as schools or sports clubs, is supervised by adults, is performed in a group of youth, and
otherwise fulfills the criteria for active leisure. It is therefore similar to serious and projectbased leisure, with an emphasis on adult supervision and guidance that varies from quite
directive to more subtle as when an adult acts as a facilitator and youth are allowed to make
decisions and plan their activities themselves (Mahoney et al., 2005). Unstructured leisure
may involve both active (e.g., hobbies) and passive (e.g., hanging out) leisure undertakings
and may take place both with and without adult supervision; its distinctive feature is a lack of
an agenda and organization, analogous to casual leisure within Stebbins’s classification.
Adolescent Development and Leisure
Adolescent leisure activities are both a manifestation of emergent developmental tasks
and concerns and a context that offers opportunities for these tasks and concerns to be
resolved (Kleiber, 1999). In this section, we discuss both of these.
Adolescent brain. Adolescents are notorious for their propensity to engage in risky
behaviors (e.g., unprotected sex, substance abuse, and drunk driving), especially in the
context of unstructured and unsupervised leisure in a company of peers. Recent research in
developmental neurobiology suggests that risk taking in human adolescents may be linked to
brain maturation during this period. More specifically, whereas the cognitive control system
(associated with cortical brain regions, e.g., prefrontal cortex) matures gradually from
childhood into young adulthood, more rapid changes in the incentive processing system
(associated with limbic subcortical regions, e.g., nucleus accumbens) occur during
adolescence, which entail heightened reactivity to rewards, especially social rewards. As a
result, the adolescent cognitive control system, although more mature than that in children, is
not yet fully developed and may not adequately inhibit impulsive responses to immediate
rewards. At the behavioral level, this nonlinear developmental dynamics may lead to
adolescents performing well on logical reasoning and cognitive estimation of risks but still
making risky choices in emotionally laden, potentially rewarding situations that are most
likely to occur during peer interactions. If such biological factors do, to some extent,
influence adolescents’ leisure preferences, this may be especially true in societies in which
adolescents have a great deal of leisure time and relatively low levels of adult supervision.
Identity development. Erik Erikson considered adolescence as a critical period in the
formation of personal and social identities, which occurs through exploration of different
options and subsequent commitment to some of them. The context of leisure offers ideal
opportunities for identity exploration, as leisure presumes more freedom and fewer
obligations than school or paid work. Alan Waterman suggested that in the process of identity
formation, some adolescents may follow the discovery metaphor, attempting to find their
‘true selves.’ They seek to engage in ‘personally expressive’ activities that fit with their
hidden potentials and are experienced as both challenging and enjoyable (cf. the concept of
flow below). Indeed, several empirical studies suggest that sustained involvement in
structured or serious leisure (e.g., sport, volunteering) is associated with a more mature
identity and with personal growth experiences. In addition, voluntary solitude and quiet
contemplation may be used strategically by adolescents to find their ‘true selves.’
Interestingly, solitude and privacy are increasingly desired by adolescents, perhaps allowing
them to arrange a space (e.g., private bedroom) that reflects their unique personalities.
In contrast, the creation metaphor implies that there is no ‘true self’ to discover but
that adolescents adaptively construct their selves, fitting their personae to the available
options and expectations of others. Identity creation requires more extensive exploration and
experimentation with possible selves, as well as more feedback from others, than identity
discovery. Again, leisure settings provide excellent venues to create various potential
identities. The creation metaphor may help us understand why many adolescents try to adopt
a particular image (e.g., with respect to clothes, musical taste, and favorite movies), abruptly
change their images, are fascinated with interactive media, and sometimes enjoy playing with
different identities in anonymous chat rooms or in online role-playing games.
But is either the discovery or the creation of an identity good for adolescents? It
depends on the breadth of exploration and on the social desirability of choices made. In fact,
the quest for identity can be associated with maladaptive leisure choices (Kleiber, 1999). For
instance, there is some evidence that adolescents with low self-concept clarity and poor social
skills may over-use the Internet, probably in an attempt to overcome these difficulties.
Moreover, members of youth gangs have a strong sense of social identity, and their
delinquent activities are both challenging and enjoyable to them. Similarly, overinvestment in
and overidentification with a single activity (e.g., fandom) may satisfy one’s need for identity
but limit personal development. Thus, having access to diverse leisure opportunities that are
both enjoyable and socially desirable is vital to normative identity development in
Parents. Throughout childhood, parents serve as primary role models concerning
leisure activities; many adolescents continue to pursue leisure interests that are similar to
those of their parents. Joint leisure activities also remain quite common. Drawing on their
beliefs about their children’s abilities and needs, parents may encourage or discourage
participation in certain activities and provide corresponding facilities. Parents may also
influence leisure choices of their offspring indirectly, through their general parenting style. In
particular, authoritative parenting, which combines warmth, autonomy support, structure, and
discipline, fosters the development of social competence and responsibility and thereby
promotes healthy leisure choices in adolescents. In contrast, when adolescents feel controlled
and mistrusted or neglected and unguided, they may be drawn toward passive leisure and
unstructured, unsupervised leisure in the company of deviant peers.
Peers and youth subcultures. As peers and peer groups gain in importance
(particularly in Western societies), adolescents choose leisure activities that make them
popular among peers (e.g., skateboarding), are performed by friends and romantically
attractive peers, and/or give them opportunities to socialize with peers without adult
supervision, whereas adult-supervised activities, even interesting and useful ones, gradually
lose their appeal. Peer-focused activities can have both positive and negative consequences,
depending on the values of the peer group. In addition, adolescents may avoid activities
where they expect or experience peer rejection and victimization (e.g., overweight teenagers
often withdraw from organized sports).
Adolescents are exposed to and attracted by broader youth subcultures or lifestyles
such as those exemplified by high school ‘crowds’ (e.g., brains, jocks, and Goths). Youth
subcultures are often associated with a distinct outward appearance (especially clothing),
jargon, musical style, and leisure preferences. Belonging to a particular subculture therefore
defines a whole range of behaviors. Initially, it was thought that subcultures emerged among
working-class youth in response to social problems, as a symbolic means of protest. Now that
youth subcultures and lifestyles have become commercialized and widely popularized in
media, they are rather regarded as a way to celebrate one’s distinctness (as a group and as an
individual) and to have fun.
Changing relational concerns. John Coleman and Leo Hendry’s focal theory linked
age-graded relational concerns with leisure transitions during adolescence. According to
Hendry, adult-organized leisure activities of early adolescence are displaced by casual
(unstructured) leisure pursuits in middle adolescence, activities that mainly consist of
socializing with peers and reflect developmental concerns about peer acceptance and
rejection. In late adolescence, casual leisure gives way to commercialized leisure (e.g.,
visiting pubs, discotheques, sport clubs, or wellness centers), which adolescents use to affirm
their maturity and independence from parents. Although empirical studies yield mixed
support for this particular sequence of events (in affluent societies, commercialized leisure
currently dominates even among younger children), the focal theory underscores the
importance of changing developmental concerns in leisure activities choice. In a similar vein,
Rainer Silbereisen, Peter Noack, and Alexander von Eye (1992) showed that adolescents’
choice of public or private leisure contexts depends on their progress in romantic friendships.
For instance, adolescents hoping for a relationship prefer public hang-out places, where they
can meet potential romantic partners, but once a relationship has been initiated, couples
retreat to more private leisure settings.
Autonomy development. Achieving an optimal level of psychosocial autonomy from
both parents and peers is a major developmental task of adolescence. Leisure becomes truly
leisure only when individuals can freely choose their activities; therefore the context of free
time becomes an important arena (and sometimes a battlefield) of autonomy development
(Kleiber, 1999). Whereas unstructured and unsupervised peer time serves as an escape from
adult supervision, time spent alone helps in keeping a distance from peers as well. By
experimenting with and combining different leisure options, adolescents gradually learn to
balance the conflicting expectations of parents and peers with their own emerging interests.
Gender role development. Socialization into masculine and feminine gender roles
and the formation of gender role identity begin in early childhood. Gender-typed behaviors
(e.g., playing with dolls or with cars) first emerge in the family context and are then
reinforced in gender-segregated peer groups throughout childhood and adolescence. Although
puberty is sometimes characterized as a period of gender roles intensification, in general,
gender differences in adolescent leisure activities reflect a continuation rather than an abrupt
increase in gendered behavior patterns. Furthermore, large interindividual differences exist in
the extent to which gender role stereotypes are acquired and followed throughout childhood
and adolescence. Last but not least, gender typing is a cultural phenomenon; for instance,
Muslim cultures hold very strict notions about the gender appropriateness of particular
activities, whereas gender-related expectations are much looser in contemporary Western
Understanding Individual Differences in Leisure
In this section, we introduce major explanations of leisure preferences and
participation that apply to adults and adolescents alike. Some of these theoretical accounts
offer a developmental perspective, some do not. We will illustrate them with examples from
adolescent research.
The Ecology of Leisure: Constraints–Facilitators Framework
In leisure research, the hierarchical model of leisure constraints (Crawford, Jackson
and Godbey, 1991) is commonly used to explain variations in leisure participation.
Constraints are objective or perceived factors that inhibit formation of leisure preferences,
prevent individuals from enjoying a particular kind of leisure, or hinder them from
participation altogether. Intrapersonal constraints represent individual barriers to leisure
participation, such as a lack of interest in a particular activity, a belief that one’s skills and
abilities are insufficient, a lack of knowledge about available leisure opportunities, and health
conditions (e.g., disability). Interpersonal constraints explain the lack of participation at the
level of relationships and group attitudes, such as a lack of company and disapproval from
significant others. Structural constraints include institutional and economic barriers, such as a
lack of time and money, poor availability of leisure facilities, unsafe neighborhood, and legal
restrictions. Finally, sociocultural constraints, such as restrictions on women’s participation
in certain leisure activities, have recently been suggested as an additional level of analysis.
The constraints model has been criticized for its implicit assumption that nonparticipation is
always bad and for its failure to consider the role of resources and other positive factors
eliciting motivation, promoting formation of leisure preferences, and encouraging leisure
participation, factors that have been called facilitators to leisure.
In research based on the constraints model, adolescents report negotiating constraints
to leisure at all levels except for the sociocultural, a level of which they seem unaware.
Typical examples include disinterest and perceived lack of skills (intrapersonal); parents
imposing restrictions on youth’s leisure activities and friends being uninterested in certain
activities (interpersonal); and inadequate recreational facilities, financial constraints, limited
accessibility of attractive leisure sites, and dangerous neighborhoods (structural).
Adolescents’ subjective perceptions aside, structural and sociocultural constraints, such as
race, gender, and socioeconomic divisions in adolescent leisure participation, are well
documented. For instance, structured extracurricular activities are not available in many
communities and are most accessible to white, middle-class, American adolescents (Mahoney
et al., 2005).
The Psychology of Leisure
Quality of experience and leisure motivation. If individuals pursue free time
activities they truly enjoy, they are believed to be intrinsically motivated. Scholars distinguish
between activities that bring hedonic enjoyment (i.e., pleasure and relaxation; typical
activities are socializing and watching movies) and those that bring eudaimonic enjoyment
(i.e., self-expression and personal growth; typical activities are volunteering, sports, and
performing arts). Although both types of activities are needed to live a ‘full life’, individuals
differ in how much value they place on hedonic and eudaimonic enjoyment. Mihály
Csíkszentmihályi and colleagues conducted landmark research on flow experiences (i.e., a
match between a high challenge of the activity and a high skill of the performer, which
generates the feelings of intense involvement, alertness, and happiness). These studies
showed that some people are more likely than others to seek out such activities and to
experience flow (‘autotelic personality’).
However, individuals sometimes perform free time activities they do not enjoy much.
For instance, many common leisure activities, such as watching TV, are associated with
rather negative emotional states (apathy). Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s selfdetermination theory (SDT) helps understand how individuals become involved in
unenjoyable activities. According to SDT, wherever people are not intrinsically motivated,
they may still perform an activity for a variety of extrinsic reasons. SDT describes four levels
of goal internalization ranging from purely external control by others to integrated regulation,
where an individual voluntarily pursues the activity and recognizes it as important to the self.
Finally, individuals may perform an activity for no particular reasons (amotivation).
According to SDT, both extrinsically motivated and amotivated behaviors may occur
when individuals’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness are
thwarted; such activities are usually experienced as boring or too demanding. For instance,
the evaluative and competitive aspects of sports participation may undermine some
individuals’ intrinsic enjoyment of sports and exercise, leading to dropout among many
adolescents. In contrast, coaches who support autonomy (i.e., give freedom of choice and
focus on mastery instead of competition) can facilitate the participants’ intrinsic motivation
for sports and continued involvement. Although adolescents may become involved in a given
activity, such as community service, for extrinsic reasons (e.g., pressure from parents or
peers), under the right conditions (i.e., if participation in the activity satisfies their
psychological needs), they may recognize the importance of this activity for themselves or
even discover intrinsic enjoyment in it.
Some, but not all, adolescents seem to be especially prone to boredom (Hunter and
Csikszentmihalyi, 2003). Complaints of being bored, both at school and in free time, can
become more frequent as young people progress from early to late adolescence. As predicted
by SDT, boredom is associated with feelings of controlled motivation (based on poorly
internalized goals) and amotivation. As adolescence is the period when individuals should
begin to exercise more autonomy in their daily life, chronic boredom in the context of leisure
may signal that this developmental task is not being supported. Researchers have offered
several explanations for adolescent amotivation and boredom, including excessive adult
control and a lack of skills to organize one’s leisure activities in a satisfying and productive
way. It appears that adolescents still need a lot of support from adults in organizing their
leisure (e.g., structured activities are typically experienced as interesting), but this support
should be provided in an unobtrusive way so that the need for autonomy is not thwarted.
Although cultures differ in the amount of autonomy granted to adolescents by their parents,
the basic link between autonomy in activity choices and activity enjoyment has been
replicated across cultures.
Drawing on SDT, Robert Vallerand and colleagues distinguished between harmonious
and obsessive passion for activities. Passion is opposite to amotivation and is characterized
by high investment, valuing and liking of the activity. Whereas harmoniously passionate
individuals feel free to perform or not to perform their favorite activity, those obsessively
passionate often feel urged or obliged to perform the activity, which entails less enjoyment
and a rigid persistence in pursuing it. Both types of passion develop over time if individuals
invest much time and effort in a given activity, highly value it, and strongly identify with it.
Furthermore, harmonious passion is more likely to develop in the context of autonomy
support, whereas obsessive passion emerges in a controlling context where there is little
freedom of choice and approval by others depends on persistence and performance.
Children’s and parents’ beliefs that one should give up on other pursuits in order to excel in a
chosen activity also foster the development of obsessive rather than harmonious passion
(Mageau, Vallerand, Charest et al., 2009).
Expectancies for success and leisure motivation. Participation in achievementrelated and skill-based types of leisure, such as sports, artistic activities, and career
volunteering, is especially contingent on one’s expectations to succeed. In his social cognitive
theory of motivation, Albert Bandura distinguished between two kinds of expectancies:
outcome expectations (beliefs that certain behaviors can lead to desired outcomes) and selfefficacy beliefs (individuals’ judgments concerning their ability to organize and perform a
given behavior to produce a given outcome, even in the presence of obstacles). Self-efficacy
beliefs are based on one’s own past experiences, on the feedback received from others, and
on the observations of others’ successes or failures on similar tasks. In the leisure context,
higher self-efficacy regarding sports and physical activity is related to higher physical activity
involvement among adolescents and moderates the negative effects of other factors, such as
perceived low accessibility of recreational facilities. High self-efficacy is also required to
abstain from unhealthy leisure choices, for instance, higher self-efficacy in resisting peer
pressure is related to a lower likelihood of substance abuse in adolescence.
An integrative model of achievement-related motivation and its developmental
precursors was suggested by Jacquelynne Eccles and colleagues. In their expectancy–value
model, activity choices are predicted by expectancies for success and subjective task value,
which combines intrinsic enjoyment of the activity with its subjective utility, its centrality to
one’s identity and core goals, and cost. Further, through a chain of psychological and social
mediators, expectancy–value beliefs are shaped by past experiences and by beliefs and
behaviors of socializing agents (e.g., parents), who are themselves influenced by a broader
socioeconomic and cultural context.
To take an example, because of gender role stereotypes, parents recognize and foster
athletic aptitudes in their sons more readily than in their daughters, and in this way girls grow
to be less confident about their athletic performance and less interested in sports activities.
Furthermore, several studies (e.g., Simpkins, Fredricks, and Eccles, 2012) showed that
parental beliefs and behaviors are even stronger predictors of children’s and adolescents’
skill-based leisure activities, such as sports, instrumental music, and out-of-school computer
activities, than of their academic activities, probably because the former are not as well
incorporated into the school curriculum and require more parental inputs. Children’s and
adolescents’ own expectancies for success and task values predict such leisure activities.
Findings from longitudinal studies suggest that both expectancies for success and subjective
task values in achievement-related activities, such as sports, decline steadily from childhood
through adolescence, in part because achievement-related leisure becomes increasingly
competitive as children grow up. As denied entry onto a team is likely to be experienced as a
personal failure, rejected adolescents downgrade the importance of such leisure pursuits and
drop out of such competitive activities. Thus, the expectancy–value model concurs with SDT
in that the attitudes and behaviors of socializing agents and the framing of structured
activities (e.g., as competitive or collaborative) are important determinants of adolescents’
leisure motivation.
Personality and leisure. Although situations and contexts are important determinants
of leisure motivation, stable individual differences in leisure preferences also exist. First,
individuals differ in the content of activities that appeal to them. The very definitions of some
personality traits include preferences for leisure activities. Unsurprisingly, extroverted
individuals prefer social activities and, to a lesser extent, sports, whereas introverted
individuals are more drawn towards the arts. High openness to experience is related to the
preference for artistic and cultural activities. High neuroticism is an obstacle to leisure
participation and enjoyment in general, but especially with regard to competitive sports,
which require high emotional stability. High sensation seeking is associated with a range of
leisure activities, such as adventurous and dangerous sports, outdoor activities, and illegal
leisure (e.g., drug use and drunk driving). Boredom proneness is related to sensation seeking,
which explains why frequent boredom forebodes the involvement in risky behaviors,
particularly among adolescents. In contrast, a resilient and prosocial personality predicts
involvement in volunteering and community service. Finally, specific individual abilities
predict engagement in corresponding aptitude-based activities, such as sports, playing music,
and intellectual activities; accordingly, such leisure pursuits also yield relatively high
heritability estimates.
Second, individuals differ in their ability to experience intrinsic enjoyment of leisure
and in the type of enjoyment they look for (hedonic vs. eudaimonic). By adolescence, the
striking difference between chronically interested and chronically bored individuals becomes
apparent. Interested adolescents report higher and more stable self-esteem, a more internal
locus of control, and greater optimism than their bored counterparts (Hunter and
Csikszentmihalyi, 2003). In adults, proneness for flow is related to high conscientiousness
and low neuroticism. Although temperamental bases of motivational orientations may exist,
socializing influences are also key. For example, authoritative parenting and parental role
modeling in childhood predict flow experiences and eudaimonic versus hedonic pursuits in
adolescents and young adults (Huta, 2012).
Assessing Leisure Preferences and Participation in Adolescence
Methods of assessing adolescent leisure participation or nonparticipation differ
depending on the research purpose. In particular, behavioral indicators capture what
adolescents actually do in their free time, measures of leisure preferences or interests reflect
what they would like to do, measures of constraints to participation investigate why they are
not involved in a given leisure activity, and measures of underlying motivation reveal why
they do what they do. Behavioral indicators are usually time-use data collected through
survey questions (i.e., respondents estimate how much time they typically spend on a given
activity), time diaries (i.e., over the course of several days, respondents note what they are
doing or recall what they were doing on the previous day), or experience sampling techniques
(i.e., for a number of days, respondents receive random signals from a mobile device
prompting them to note immediately what they have been doing).
Measures of leisure preferences typically sample a wide range of leisure activities and
ask adolescents to rate their liking/disliking of them, similarly to vocational interest scales.
For example, Hansen’s 250-item Leisure Interest Questionnaire consists of 20 scales, such as
travel, culinary pursuits, and computer activities, and can be administered to late adolescents.
King et al.’s Preferences for Activities in Children (PAC) scale is a shorter instrument
designed for children and adolescents with disabilities, which consists of 55 items divided
into two activity domains (formal and informal) and five activity types (recreational, active
physical, social, skill-based, and self-improvement). It complements another instrument
measuring actual participation, Children’s Assessment of Participation and Enjoyment
(CAPE); both are applicable to individuals without disabilities.
Measures of perceived constraints to leisure are based on Crawford et al.’s
hierarchical model and assess intrapersonal, interpersonal, and structural constraints.
Instruments assessing leisure motivation are usually tailored to specific theories of
motivation. For instance, the 20-item Free Time Motivation Scale for Adolescents draws on
SDT to assess five types of motivation ranging from amotivation to intrinsic motivation. The
Passion Scale adapted for children and adolescents consists of 11 items and is used to
distinguish between harmonious and obsessive passion for activities. Expectancy–value
scales based on Eccles et al.’s theory measure expectancies for success and task values
associated with specific achievement-based activities. Finally, qualitative methods for the
assessment of leisure participation and motivation, such as focus groups, are also increasingly
Consequences of Leisure and Ways to Intervene
What adolescents do in their free time has short- and long-term implications for their
health and psychosocial development. Participation in high-quality structured after-school
programs is often enjoyable, predicts higher academic success, and provides developmental
experiences in a variety of domains, such as identity work, initiative, emotional regulation,
teamwork and social skills, positive relationships, and social capital (Feldman Farb and
Matjasko, 2012; Mahoney, Larson and Eccles, 2005). Programs where adults provide indirect
guidance and adolescents feel in control of their activities facilitate the development of
agency skills, for instance, strategic thinking. However, not all structured programs are of
high quality, and involvement in low-quality programs may engender negative experiences
leading to dropout, which should not be considered a negative outcome in this case (RoseKrasnor, 2009). In turn, unstructured and unsupervised peer time, which is a leisure option
highly attractive to Western adolescents, provides opportunities for self-exploration,
autonomy development, and development of social competence, but also carries risks, such as
substance use, unprotected sex, and delinquency. That is, just like structured activities,
unsupervised peer interactions may be of different quality. Likewise, media-based leisure
pursuits, such as watching TV, Internet surfing, and playing video games, may have both
positive and negative effects on health and development depending on their particular content
and the amount of time devoted to them.
Numerous programs have been developed to prevent risky behaviors in adolescence,
such as substance use and unprotected sex, but few have focused on promoting healthy,
developmentally beneficial choices and behaviors in the context of free time. A noteworthy
exception is the TimeWise program developed by Linda Caldwell and colleagues (Caldwell,
Baldwin, Walls and Smith, 2004), which aims at fostering general leisure skills and optimal
motivation. TimeWise is partly based on SDT, consists of six curricular lessons delivered in
Grade 7 classrooms in the U.S., and has already yielded positive short-term effects. Recently,
it has been applied in South Africa as part of a larger prevention program.
Yet another approach to intervening with adolescents’ leisure is to encourage their
participation in specific desirable activities, most commonly sports and physical exercise.
School-based interventions to promote physical activity among adolescents have rather shortterm effects (to produce sustained effects, an intervention should last at least several months)
and have limited generalizability to leisure contexts. More comprehensive interventions, for
instance, those involving parents, tend to be more effective.
Adolescent leisure choices are influenced by a multitude of factors, many of which,
such as structural facilities, financial constraints, and the attitudes of socializing agents (e.g.,
parents, teachers, and peers), adolescents cannot control. Nevertheless, to benefit from leisure
experiences, adolescents need to exercise control—to be free to choose and plan their leisure,
to balance different types of leisure activities, and to refrain from risky leisure pursuits. This
requires organization and self-regulation skills as well as the ability to enjoy leisure. Where
such skills and abilities are lacking, it is not the fault of adolescents themselves but rather the
indication that their socializing agents lack these same skills and abilities or do not create a
supportive and challenging environment optimal for psychosocial development. Future
researchers would therefore be well advised to develop comprehensive interventions fostering
leisure skills and optimal leisure experiences in children and adolescents, for example, by
including corresponding components in family and community intervention programs.
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23027 (Motivational development during adolescence and cultural variations)
23028 (Self and identity development during adolescence and cultural variations)
23030 (Development of life management skills during adolescence and cultural variations)
23046 (Effects of parenting and family structure on behavior)
23090 (Decision-making processes during adolescence)
23092 (Brain maturation and plasticity during adolescence)
23145 (Cultural views of adolescence)
23186 (Peer relations during adolescence and cultural variations)
23187 (Peer difficulties during adolescence and cultural variations)
23193 (Identity formation during adolescence and cultural variations)
95006 (Media Effects on Children)
95077 (Media, Children and Youth)
26001 (Academic achievement motivation, development of)
26019 (Developmental Sport Psychology)
26027 (Eudaemonism)
26035 (Interest, Psychology of)
26036 (Intrinsic Motivation, Psychology of)
26063 (Risk taking in adolescence)
26088 (Flow)
26090 (Children’s motivation)
25033 (Self-efficacy)
25040 (Time Use and Gender)
32144 (Sociology of Leisure)
32173 (Youth culture, sociology of)
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