Feature Article - January 2008
Find a printable version here

Reaching the iGeneration

To Get Teens Involved, You Have to Think Like One…Sort Of

By Dana Carman

Leaders of Today— and Tomorrow

In Phoenix, the Parks and Recreation Department's teen program operates on a simple premise according to Juan Rodriguez, "Program for teens with teens." Teen councils meet on a regular basis and provide input on programs and services for teens. The council members elect their officers and representatives and have a representative on the Teen Parks and Recreation Board.

The Teen Parks and Recreation Board is made up of teens from parks and recreation districts and the At Risk Youth Division who meet on a monthly basis to review programs and policies related to youth issues. The board makes recommendations to the Parks and Recreation Board as the teen board chair sits on that board as well. Additionally, there's a large teen leadership conference annually that addresses issues facing teens and provides recreation leaders a good snapshot of what's going on with teens.

"We include our teens in what we do," Rodriguez said. "They're a little younger than an adult who has maximum freedoms. You have to take that into consideration and allow freedom for input and empower them."

There are also leadership councils that focus on the needs of the junior high kids. The councils grow somewhat organically, forming as they're needed geographically so if one park site or recreation center sees a lot of tween activity, the council for that particular area will be made up of its constituents and focus on those activities and issues specific to them.

The Great Outdoors

Remember the days when Mom would kick you outside to play and not let you back in until dinner? Those days are gone, replaced by comfortable couches, plasma-screen televisions and the best videogame graphics money can buy.

But an initiative by the Outdoor Industry Association and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is bringing the outside back to teens. Called Teens Outside, the program was piloted in Asheville, N.C., in 2006. The focus is to provide teens outdoor opportunities such as hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, camping, etc., over eight weeks, along with mentoring. The program gives kids the opportunity to try an activity they may never have done before, build confidence and connect with nature. After that initial launch, 20 agencies were chosen for the program this past year.

The agencies range from large to small, and each has a different depth of experience in outdoor programming. For some the experience is greater in the mentoring (for example, one of the agencies was a Big Brothers Big Sisters organization), while others already had a thriving outdoor program and partnered with a local university to provide the mentoring. According to Theresa Rodriguez, senior manager, national partnerships for the NRPA, the program has been very successful and plans for expanding it are in the works.

It's a good thing, too, as Rodriguez said that connecting children to nature is the hot topic right now. "We're finding a whole generation who are not connected to going outside to play," she said. "It's a big problem that they haven't had time to play in nature, relax in nature, connect to nature. We're finding that once we get these kids out there and it's done in a safe and planned manner, kids are loving it."

Learning to love the outdoors also puts environmental concerns into teens' minds and creates young caretakers for our environment, which, as everyone knows, is also a hot topic, no pun intended. "Studies have shown that if teens have one positive experience during the formative years up until adulthood, they're much better stewards for the environment," Rodriguez said.

For more information on Teens Outside, visit www.nrpa.org.