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October 25, 2001 Leisure activities a lifeline for troubled youth



by Lisa Harding

Jacinthe Morsani, the co-president of the Applied Human Sciences (AHSC) Students Association, says that leisure sciences are frequently misinterpreted. “My friends think it’s a joke — they think it’s like basket-weaving.”

How people spend their leisure time can have a serious effect on their quality of life. Dr. Brenda Robertson, an associate professor of recreation management at Acadia University, has been studying the importance of leisure to youth for the last 20 years.

On Friday, she presented her latest study to about 50 students, alumni and faculty of the AHSC Department who were attending this year’s 14th annual Leisure in the 21st Century Conference. Her six-week study compared 18-to-21-year-olds in school and those in youth custody facilities in Nova Scotia. In particular, she looked at how these young people thought about how they spend their free time, and what they could learn about their own activities.

Six months after the program, 92 per cent of all participants had made changes in their recreational habits. Most remember the study fondly and were making healthier, safer leisure choices after its conclusion.

Robertson was surprised at how similar both youth groups were. “No matter how different their backgrounds, their needs and outcomes are the same,” she said.

The study hit close to home for Harold Jackson, a third-year AHSC student.

During the question-and-answer period that followed the presentation, he told the group he identified with many of the tendencies youth in custody had, including sports participation, vandalism and petty theft. Robertson admitted that we all have these tendencies.

The key difference is that “kids who ended up in jail generally didn’t feel connected to social institutions,” including family, friends and church, he said. Those who stopped their involvement in illegal activities did so “because they didn’t want to disappoint or hurt someone in their life.”

She stressed the importance of providing safe and legal outlets for youth to have fun, pointing out some cities in Nova Scotia had banned skateboarding.

“If we don’t provide youth with the opportunity to get [adrenaline] rushes, they’ll look for it somewhere else.”

Morsani said that the students who attended the session have a “strong and sincere desire to help youth.” Many participants said they could be more successful if they were able to communicate with parents more effectively.

Jared MacSween, coordinator of Westmount’s Teen Centre, was glad he was there. “I got a lot of ideas about how to change my programs for the better, based on today.”

The session also made the 30-year-old Concordia graduate think about the young people he works with, as some come from halfway houses. “I need to make our centre more accessible to them.”

Graduates of Concordia’s leisure sciences program generally find employment in the development or management of recreational programs, from government positions to community education to youth service agencies.

For more information, contact the Applied Human Sciences Department at 848-3330 or 848-2260.