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Young people’s outdoor recreation and state park use: Perceived benefits from the parent/guardian perspective


Outdoor recreation is perceived as beneficial to children’s mental and social development

This study examines the caregiver-perceived benefits of young people’s outdoor recreation in state parks.  Conducted in northern Georgia, USA, the authors visited three state parks, conducting intercept surveys with 1029 adults who had children in their families. To control for bias towards outdoor recreation, the authors also interviewed 279 adults with children at flea markets in the surrounding community as a comparison group.  Caregiver survey responses were based on children’s participation in outdoor recreation. Demographics of children in the state park sample were majority Caucasian (55%) followed by Hispanic/Latino, Black/African American and Asian/Other.  Participants from the surrounding community included mostly Hispanic/Latino (47%) followed by white/Caucasian, Black/African American and Asian/Other.  Survey items were broader (than recreation in state parks) for the comparison group than for the state park group.

Participation in typical outdoor recreation activities such as camping, hiking and canoeing was ranked lower than other activities such as playground use, picnicking and swimming. There were demographic differences in outdoor activities: for example, young children and African American children were reported to prefer playgrounds; hiking, walking and biking were reported to be more popular among white children and jogging among Latino children. Older youth were reported to prefer relaxing and canoeing/kayaking. Boys were more likely than girls to visit state parks, and whites and Latinos were more likely to visit than the other ethnic groups. Latino families tended to recreate in parks in large family units and focused on social activities, such as picnicking. Using electronic devices was popular among teens and ethnic minorities. The authors offer recommendations for approaches to appealing to diverse ages and ethnicities to increase state park usage.

Caregiver-perceived benefits of outdoor recreation included, in particular, quality time with family/friends and physical health but also, and particularly for ethnic minorities, nature exploration and discovery, opportunity to try new things, mental health, and, development of social skills.  Study findings reported slightly lower perceived benefits for teens than all other ages.  In the control group, caregivers of white children reported higher perceived benefits than caregivers of Latino and African American children, possibly explaining why, in other studies, the latter groups are often exposed to fewer outdoor opportunities. For the park users however, Latino caregivers reported the highest levels of perceived benefits, possibly explaining these families’ choices to visit the parks at higher rates compared to other groups.



Larson, L. R., Whiting, J. W., Green, G. T., (2013). Young people’s outdoor recreation and state park use: Perceived benefits from the parent/guardian perspective. Children, Youth and Environments, 23(3), 89-117.


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