Adolescent physical activity, self-efficacy, and friendships at summer care programs


BACKGROUND and PURPOSE Physical activity (PA) attainment is associated with many health and developmental benefits for adolescents. Unfortunately, many adolescents are significantly less active in the summer. Summer care programs (e.g., Boys and Girls Clubs) and camps can be a strong source of structure and PA promotion for adolescents. These programs provide an opportunity for young people to be active and foster friendships. Adolescent PA is greatly impacted by their social environment, which can be examined by using social network analysis (SNA). SNA is a set of theories and methodologies designed to help researchers understand the social influences that may affect a person and their health behaviors.

OBJECTIVES This study aimed to examine the impact of PA, self-efficacy, and outside friendships on the formation of friendship ties among a group of adolescents participating in a summer care program.

METHODS Adolescents (n=31, mean age = 9.2, SD =1.2) from a summer care program were asked about demographic information, perceived physical activity levels, self-efficacy, and their social networks both inside of the program and outside. Adolescents indicated up to five people they hung around with, talked to, and spent the most time with while at the program. Adolescents were also asked about the people with whom they spent the most time when they weren’t at the care program. Exponential random graph modeling was used to determine significant factors associated with friendship tie formation within the care program.

RESULTS Friendship ties were significantly more likely between individuals who shared a friend (transitivity), and were more likely to be reciprocated. Additionally, adolescents who reported higher PA and fewer external connections were significantly more likely to be selected as a friend by others in the network. Adolescents who reported higher self-efficacy in activities at the program were less likely to report friendship connections.

CONCLUSIONS These data suggest that activity levels play a role in adolescents’ friendship networks. Therefore, not only can PA have important mental and physical health benefits for adolescents, it can improve their ability to socially connect. However, self-efficacy predicted less social ties, suggesting a potential negative effect of too much confidence. Helping youth foster self-efficacy enough to participate in PA without pushing people away could be a worthy strategy to improve holistic outcomes related to PA activity, especially in summer-care program settings.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE AND POLICY Practitioners working to increase PA in the summer through summer care programs may wish to be conscious of friendship dynamics in their program as well as external influences on adolescents connecting with others.

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