Nature is an important part of adolescents’ leisure time experiences and everyday well-being

Puhakka, R. ., & Hakokongas, E. . (2023). Adolescents’ experiences in nature: Sources of everyday well-being. Journal of Leisure Research.

Nature-based outdoor recreation is one of the defining characteristics of the Finnish culture. Global trends, however, indicate that adolescents in many urbanized societies are spending less time outdoors. This study focused on Finnish adolescents’ leisure time experiences in natural environments to determine what they experience in nature and how they experience it.

Thirty-nine students (age 15-16) from two different schools in the city of Lahti in southern Finland participated in the study. Due to COVID, the students were engaged in remote learning. Students who volunteered for this study completed a written assignment addressing five broad themes related to their leisure time experiences in nature: (1) outdoor recreation in leisure time; (2) effects on mood and well-being; (3) importance of nature; (4) leisure time natural environments and elements; and (5) definitions of nature. The length of their typewritten responses varied from half a page to one and a half pages. The analysis of the data focused on the “adolescents’ descriptions of their experiences in natural environments, particular ways of engaging with nature, and the meanings they give to these experiences.” A three-phase approach guided the process: (1) multiple readings of the text to become familiar with the material and its meanings; (2) the identification of abstract themes and sub-themes; and (3) the development of a coding scheme reflecting researchers’ agreement on the interpretations of the data.

While descriptions of leisure time experiences in natural environments varied, most experiences were described in positive terms. Nature for most of the participants was a low-threshold “place of everyday activity” that was routinely and spontaneously accessible. Nature was used to escape daily stressors and for activities such as exercise and outdoor recreation. On weekends and during breaks, nature-based activities might extend to family cottages in the forest and regional and national natural attractions. The participants also described nature as an important contributor to their well-being. The well-being benefits included calming down, restoring energy, regulating emotions, improving mood and enhancing physical activity. Adolescents described nature as a multisensory place and a place to get away from everyday routines and demands, as well as escape the digital world. They also valued nature for the opportunities it provided for both solitude and social connections with family and friends.

This research highlights “the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the role of nature as a part of adolescents’ leisure time experiences and their well-being.”

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