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Feature Article - March 2014

No Teen Left Inside

Attracting Teens Into Outdoor Programs

By Kelli Anderson


When the United States Congress passed the No Child Left Inside Act in 2009 (a law influenced in great part by Richard Louv's influential book, Last Child in the Woods), our nation was finally saying "yes" to the environment and "yes" to the importance of a child's need to be in in it. As many recreation directors will tell you, however, getting children outdoors is one thing, but getting teenagers to sign up for the outdoor experience? Much more challenging.

Five years since that act was passed, there is encouraging news. A growing number of recreation facilities and organizations have discovered how to tap into the mindset of a new generation of teenagers, who are answering the call to outdoor activity and environmental service with enthusiasm. And in those cases, even in the face of shrinking state and federal funding for recreation and the environment, those who properly understand teens are not just seeing their parks improved and teens and programs growing, but are seeing revenues grow as well.

The Millennials

So, who are the millennials? According to the Pew Research Center, millennials are those born from 1982 to 2000, ages 14 to 32. And like every generation they have a distinct personality. In the case of millennials, these characteristics, if understood and addressed, can work to great advantage in gaining their attention and even enthusiastic dedication to engage the environment and outdoor activities.

"Millennials are collaborative, positive, tech-savvy, adaptable and connected," said Courtney Templin, chief operating officer with JB Training Solutions, a consulting firm specializing in millennial mindset, and author of "Millennials 3.0: A Millennial's Guide to Rewriting the Rules of Management." "They love teamwork and group work or projects so they enjoy doing things together. When interviewing hundreds of millennials for our book, we continued to hear the word 'connected.' Millennials want to be connected—connected to their job, friends and family, and they want to be connected to purpose, passion and people. "

The Big Picture

A growing number of recreation facilities and organizations have discovered how to tap into the mindset of a new generation of teenagers, who are answering the call to outdoor activity and environmental service with enthusiasm.

Templin underscores an important key to motivating millennials: tapping into their desire to make a difference in the world and their community by showing them how they can collaborate, connect and contribute. Inherent in this process, however, is their need to understand the "why" behind everything—the big picture—in order to gain their buy-in. Those who succeed in gaining their trust, testify that their participation and contributions are nothing short of amazing.

For park districts, state programs and environmental groups, this comes as great news, given that many environmental projects require group cooperation (that connecting, communal quality millennials love). Not to mention the fact that such projects are usually full of environment-saving and community-enriching reasons to explain why they are needed to make a difference in the world we live in.

"What's attractive to them is to have something they're feeling involved in, give them something to believe in and buy into," said Angela Summers, aquatic supervisor in the Parks and Recreation of Henderson, Nev., about their popular teen lifeguarding program, Junior Pool Partners. "In parks and recreation, they get that they are part of an important team."

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