Introduction: Adolescent physical activity (PA) is considered vital for healthy psychological, social, and physical development. Adolescents who report feeling they are more competent in PA are more likely to achieve recommended amounts of PA. However, most adolescents do not achieve these recommended amounts with a notable decline as they get older. While schools provide a structured environment for PA, some children, particularly in low-income families, depend on summer programs for supervision and structured care during summer months. This study aims to investigate adolescents’ perceived PA competence at a summer care program and the possible role of friendship networks have in an adolescent’s competence levels.
Methods: Adolescents at a summer care program (age 8-12) completed researcher-administered surveys at the start (time 1) and end (time 2) of summer. Perceived skill competence was measured by asking adolescents to rate how good they felt they were at PA in certain settings: at school, outside, on the playground, at the summer care program, and at home. Adolescents were also asked to provide names of up to five peers whom they hung around with, talked to, and did things with the most while at the program. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine potential differences in mean perceived skill competence responses based on setting. Linear network autocorrelation models were used to determine network effects or clustering of perceived skill competence within the program.
Results: At time 1, ANOVAs revealed that adolescents (n=100; µ age=9.9 years; 47% male; 62% Black) reported significantly higher perceived skill competence while at the summer care program than in any other setting. However, there were no significant differences among perceived skill competence scores based on setting for adolescents surveyed at time 2 (n=77; µ age=9.8 years; 51% male; 60% Black). There was a significant network effect for average perceived skill competence scores at time 1, indicating adolescent perceived skill competence scores were associated with those of their friends. This association was not significant at time 2.
Conclusions: It is possible this summer care program facilitated opportunities for adolescents who may have differing perceived skill competence to interact with each other and become friends. These opportunities may also encourage adolescents of all competence levels to be more physically active together during the summer months.