What does leisure and free time mean for young people today?

In the mid-1960s Pearl Jephcott set out to answer the question “How do young Scots use their free time?” The result was Time of One’s Own, a pioneering study of youth leisure in Scotland which captured the social and leisure habits of 600 young Scots at a unique point in history.

Jephcott focussed on young people aged 15-19 as it was recognised then, in much the same way it is expected now, that during these years young people will make the transition from school to work and towards adulthood. Although these transitions tend to be much more drawn out nowadays than in the 1960s. Jephcott narrowed the geography of her study to two areas in Glasgow (Dennistoun and Drumchapel) and Armadale, West Lothian.  Traditionally, leisure was viewed as something which occurred outside of working hours and periods of hard labour, a chance to recharge your batteries so you remained fit for work. At the time of Jephcott’s landmark study, the notion of leisure was taking on a more modern meaning – “the opportunity afforded by unoccupied time” and the “freedom…to do something” (Jephcott, 1976, p.10).  It was also thought that this opportunity and freedom was accessible by all sections of society rather than a few.

So how have young people’s lives and leisure habits changed since the 1960s? And what has remained the same? These are the core questions for the new (Re) Imagining Youth Study. Building on Jephcott’s work in Scotland and Hong Kong (where she also surveyed work, leisure and educational conditions for children and young people, Jephcott 1971), it aims to provide detailed insights into the impact of social change on youth leisure. We will revisit one of Jephcott’s original sites and examine young people’s lives in the current social, political and economic climate.

A recent government report on child poverty highlights the importance of social environments in young people’s development including their peer groups and neighbourhoods and “stresses the need to increase opportunities outside of the home, yet youth services are nowhere to be found”. We will explore what is offered to young people and who makes use of the local leisure provision. A further change since the 1960s is the increased time young people spend online.  From the comfort of their home young people can interact with friends, peers and strangers all over the world, research shows the ways young people negotiate and manage these online relationships.

But what impact has information technology and social media had on how young people spend their free time?  Having previously worked in youth clubs and as detached youth worker (going to where young people are rather than hoping /expecting them to come into their local youth club) I have gained an insight into what young people get up to in their spare time and how their communities respond to this. I am interested to find out what choice and opportunities young people feel they have in the ways they spend their free-time, particularly at a time when we have a shortage of jobs, high youth unemployment, a rise in ‘in-work poverty’ working poor and austerity cuts to local services. So, is leisure and free time still viewed in the same way as in the 1960s? How is it defined by young people today? With less disposable income and high costs of living how do young people now spend their free time? If leisure is reward for, or recreation after, working what does leisure mean for young people who are out of work?

Dr Lisa Whittaker, Research Assistant


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