Decline of Youth Participation: Outdoor Recreation

February 10, 2016

The National Recreation Foundation is “dedicated to enhancing the role of recreation as a positive force in improving the quality of life of youth. We do this by investing in recreation programs directed at those who are economically, physically or mentally disadvantaged.” This mission is accomplished through the funding of programs offered by nonprofit organizations that encourage physical activity through sports, athletics or outdoor recreation. Recent trends demonstrate a marked decreased in youth participation in outdoor activities due to continued increase of indoor activity correlated with technology use.

image of child watching tv


According to a study by The Outdoor Foundation, researchers reported that youth of all ages (ages 6-24) reported that they either did not have enough time or were not interested. Other responses from the youngest age group (ages 6-12) noted that: they have too much school-work, are involved in indoor sports teams or fitness activities, would rather spend time on screens watching TV, playing videogames, are surfing the web, or did not go outside because outdoor recreation has not been modeled by their parents. For the middle age group (ages 13-17) lack of time or interest, schoolwork, screen time, and more interest in spending time with friends were the top factors. For the oldest group (ages 18-24), money and lack of interest from friends were factors, in addition to lack of time, minimal interest, and schoolwork.


On the contrary, the factors that motivate the two youngest age groups to participate in outdoor activity include: the activities are fun, close to the individual’s home, and offer opportunities for discovery and exploration. Members of the oldest group were motivated to participate in outdoor activities as a form of relaxation, exercise, and escape from their normal routine.

image of family playing outside


Across the board, parents, other family members, friends, community and school programs, and an intrinsic desire to experience nature were the main elements that influenced participation in outdoor activities. Clearly, youth participation directly links to one’s community (the participation tendencies of parents, family, school, neighborhood).

As youth spend increased time indoors and behind screens, this poses new challenges for organizations focused on youth development and outdoor recreation. As such, the National Recreation Foundation concentrates its funding dollars in programs that offer innovative approaches to serving the needs of today’s youth. Look for future blog posts highlighting exciting and entrepreneurial programs offered by Foundation grantees that are proving particularly effective.


Outdoor Nation. (2010) Outdoor Nation Special Report: Youth Outdoor Priorities. ln. (Ed.). Boulder, CO: The Outdoor Foundation.

The Outdoor Foundation. (2010). Special report on youth: the next generation of outdoor champions (). In . (Ed.). Boulder, CO: The Outdoor Foundation.