Essential Paradigm Shift

The key paradigm shift needed to successfully transform troubled boys into mentally and emotionally healthy young men resides in how such boys are perceived by helping adults from the ‘get-go.’ Peter Witt and Linda Caldwell assert that youth must be seen as valuable resources to invest in and not problems to solve. The real job is to develop their capacities, providing them with rich opportunities and regular and positive adult involvement and guidance.1

“…youth are valuable resources to invest in and not problems to be solved.”

Peter Witt and Linda Caldwell.

The proper approach to developing youth is the opposite of a problem-based or corrective approach, which assumes there is something wrong with the boy or girl, say Witt and Caldwell.1 Instead, it is much more positive and constructive to see all youth as empty reservoirs with capacities that need filling.

“Not deficiencies to correct, but capacities to fill.”

Jeff Rogers

Extensive efforts must be made in every youth’s life, from the very beginning, to establish positive family structures, communities, and organizations that facilitate constant movement and growth along the pathway to adulthood by supplying bountiful supports, opportunities, programs, and services.1

An Evidence-Based Bounty in the Use of Recreational Activities

A growing body of evidence points out the multiple benefits of recreational activities in the lives of youth.1

  • Reduces juvenile delinquency
  • Increases positive and reduces negative behaviors
  • Exposes youth to less violence
  • Improves children’s educational performance
  • Helps decrease health care costs related to childhood obesity
  • Increases the economic contributions of young people to society when they become adults
  • Helps youth develop self-confidence, optimism, and initiative
  • Increases civic responsibility and participation
  • Reduces parental stress and thus affect health care costs and lost job productivity

Fort Myers, Florida police cite a 28% drop in juvenile arrests since the inception of the award-winning STARS Program–Success through Academic and Recreational Support. STARS provides area youth much needed recreational and artistic diversions.1

Search Institute research indicates that the more developmental assets young people experience, the more they will demonstrate positive attitudes and behaviors (e.g., exhibiting leadership, maintaining good health, and succeeding in school). Conversely, the fewer assets young people experience, the more they will demonstrate problem behaviors (e.g., abuse of alcohol, violence, illicit drug use, and sexual activity).1

Studies have found that community violence occurs less frequently among youth who live in neighborhoods rich in youth-serving organizations.1

Quality after-school programs provide time for students to take school-based learning to a deeper and more individualized level, as well as filling many existing gaps in the typical school curriculum in the arts, sports, foreign language, and service learning.1

Youth who engage in adequate amounts of physically active recreation are more likely to be at an appropriate weight and a reduced risk for later weight-related health problems.1

Participating in recreational activities can make a difference in annual earning levels and lifetime income.1

Studies of youth participants in structured recreational activities settings found that successful youth avoid resorting to future destructive self-talk and feel more positively about doing jobs they enjoy.1

Youth involved in recreational activities are more likely than non-involved youth to do volunteer work and feel that they can undertake activities to make life better for other children and youth growing up in their community.1

Parents may miss up to five days of work per child not involved in regular structured recreational activities and it is estimated that PASS (Parental After-School Stress) cost employers from $50-$300 billion in health care and lost job productivity each year.1

Activities Likely to Be Offered in Group Homes

A group home is a private residence model for treating children or young people who cannot live with their families for the time being because of behavioral or mental or emotional needs.  Some 500 such organizations operate nationally, representing approximately 10% of all mental health therapy organizations.

Activities that aid group-home youths in programs like WinGate Wilderness Therapy and Teen Challenge Adventure Camp, offered across the nation include outdoor activities like camping, backpacking, rappelling, canoeing, spelunking, hiking, mountain climbing, and rafting. Often the goals of such adventure-based learning are fear challenging, character building, environmental appreciating, relationship building and teamwork cooperating and collaborating.

Other group-home based organizations offer struggling youth a full slate of structured sports, music, art, daily exercise and service projects. And when these programs couple their wilderness and recreational-based programs with the exclusion of cell phones, computers, video games and music devices, the experience becomes all the more rewarding.

More information on group-based care programs can be found through the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP).


1 “The Rationale for Recreation Services for Youth: An Evidence-Based Approach,” Peter Witt and Linda Caldwell.

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