Report on the Young 2002


Part I: participation in leisure activities

Leisure, just like school and the family, plays an important role in obtaining skills young people need in this day and age. At least, this is what many policymakers and youth experts presume. It is believed that leisure activities, especially those organized by leisure clubs, have a positive influence on the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of young people. Hence, youth policy aims to stimulate young people's participation in general services, which includes leisure services. At the same time, leisure is the ideal area in which youth can escape the attention and interference of adults. Young people can simply determine for themselves what they do in their leisure time. This can be very instructive, but it can also entail risks.

Part I of the Youth 2002 Report is about the leisure time of young people. Key questions are, among other things, how do young people spend their leisure time and which leisure activities have an influence on their development. To answer the latter question, the term 'developmental state' has been introduced. This term concerns the status in a variety of developmental areas at a specific moment in time. Departing from developmental psychology insights into social, emotional, physical and cognitive development, and based on (the quality of) the information that was available to us, several indicators have been selected. These include perception of one's health, quality of relationship with parents and peers, exhibiting criminal behaviour, use of drugs and alcohol, and having emotional problems.

Wide variation in leisure patterns

What do young people do in their leisure time and have many changes occurred in the last ten years? Club membership is still an important part of leisure for many young people. About 60% of teenagers are members of a leisure club or association. This figure has not changed greatly in the last ten years. Sports clubs are by far the most popular, and have also been so for years: 52% of teenagers are members of a sports club.

In the last years there has been an increasing concern for the lack of physical exercise among children and other young people. This concern, however, does not appear entirely justified since 89% of 6 to 18 year-olds play sports. Of the 12 to 18 year-olds, 51% satisfy the Dutch Exercise for Health Standards. These percentages have increased rather than declined over the last years. In contrast, participation in sports competitions has declined somewhat.

There are clear differences between boys and girls regarding the intensity of sports practice and preference for certain sports. Boys are more often members of a sports club, devote more time to sports and begin earlier with team sports. Young teenagers of 12 to 15 years of age are also more often members of a sports club and participate more in sports competitions than older teenagers of 16 to 18 years of age. Ethnic minority youth are less often members of a sports club than their Dutch counterparts, while both groups devote the same amount of time to sports.

Nearly all young people who do sports say they do so because they enjoy sports. Pleasure from sports is one of the most important motives for participating in sports. Remaining fit is another important motive. Doing sports in order to become one of the 'best' occurs relatively infrequently. It is given as a reason by one of every three young people. This is more likely to be a motive for boys and ethnic minority youth to do sports than it is for girls and Dutch youth.

Memberships of clubs other than sports, such as youth, hobby, art, environmental and political clubs, are less popular. Of teenagers, 11% are members of a youth club, about the same percentage go to a singing or theatre club, and 6% are members of a hobby club. The least popular are political clubs or unions: 2% of 12 to 18 year-olds are members. Differences are also found here between subgroups of youngsters. Girls are more often members of such clubs than are boys and young teenagers are more often members than older teenagers. There are no clear differences between ethnic minority and Dutch youth. Possibly no differences are found because there are also special youth clubs for minority groups.

In the Netherlands, children and young people grow up in families that have much access to a variety of media. Electronic media in particular, especially television and computers, plays an important role in the lives of young people: 98% of them watch television or video. If we look at the amount of time devoted to media, television is by far the most popular. Yet the average amount of time teenagers watch television has decreased in the last five years: from 115 minutes in 1995 to 92 minutes in 2000. Computer use, on the other hand, has greatly increased. The percentage of young people who use the computer at least once per week has risen from 24% in 1990 to 67% in 2000. Time sitting at a computer has also greatly increased from 8 minutes per day in 1990 to 25 minutes in 2000. Time spent reading books decreased sharply in the early nineties from 14 to 6 minutes per day and then stabilized. There has also been a decrease in time spent reading newspapers and magazines. However, analyses have shown that there is no competition between surfing the Internet and reading. In fact, to the contrary, netizens read more printed media and watch less television than non-netizens. The developments sketched here are reflected, to a greater or lesser degree, in the different groups of young people.

Interest in canonised culture, such as theatre, ballet, classical music and museums, has not shown any large shifts in the last ten years. The interest shown here by youth has not been unappreciable, although it is clearly less than that of adults. Museums are still the most visited: 38% of 6 to 18 year-olds visited a museum in 1999. In general, girls are more often culturally active than boys, and children whose parents have a university education are more culturally active than children whose parents have a lower level of education. School, in addition to parents, appears to be an important stimulus for attending cultural institutions. The most visited are museums and the theatre: 17% of 12 to 18 year-old students go with their school to an art museum, 16% to other sorts of museums, and 12% go to the theatre. Young people's interest in youth subcultural activities, such as going to a pop concert, to a movie or going out, is noticeably greater. In 1999, 4% of the 6 to 18 year-olds went to a classical concert and 21% of them went to a pop concert or a musical, while 12% went to the theatre, 3% to a ballet performance and 75% to the movies.

Young people appear to do less volunteer work and are less active in conventional political activities than adults. Of all 12 to 18 year-olds, 7% have participated in a youth debate in the last three years, 5% have been on a youth panel or youth council, and 4% have attended a public forum. It cannot be said, however, owing to a lack of data, to what extent shifts have occurred in this area over time. Nevertheless, it seems difficult to attract youth, who are ineligible to vote, to partake in such activities.

The way in which youth are able to express their opinions is severly criticised these days, however. Different agencies point out that young people are involved (in public forum sessions) in an inconsistent and often traditional way. However, the question remains whether the areas for improvement that are mentioned would result in greater participation. In general, teenagers do not seem very interested in politics: while 4% are very interested in national politics, 75% are not interested. However, about 60% of 12 to 18 year-olds are indeed interested in social issues, such as criminality and the environment, and 76% of them believe they should have more say in youth policy. It is clear that boys, in general, are more interested in politics than girls, and that older teenagers are more interested than young ones. Political interest also varies according to the educational level of both the parents and the child - the higher it is, the greater the interest.

Complex issue

Research into the question of what leisure activities 'yield' is sparse in the Netherlands, with the exception of a few studies of the effects of media use and sports. An attempt has been made in the Youth 2002 Report to contribute to this discussion. This contribution must be viewed as a first and modest exploration. It is modest because the question of the relation between participation and development is particularly complex. Many factors influence the participatory behaviour of young people and the course of their individual development. Only a few indicators could be studied. Futhermore, the means at our disposal were limited. Owing to a lack of longitudinal research, which is necessary to establish causal effects, the National Pupil Study was selected as database. This database only gives a picture of young people of schoolage at a specific moment in time. Consequently, only cross-sectional analyses could be done, which means that no conclusions about the causality between links and of possible long-term effects could be drawn.

Weak links

A variety of significant links were found, which were generally weak. The most significant links, albeit weak, are those concerning the relationship with parents. Doing sports, being a member of a sports or other club, visiting a cultural venue and reading are all associated with a slightly more positive perception of the relationship with parents. More consumer-oriented leisure activities, especially going out and phoning friends and, to a lesser extent, watching television and using the computer, show more negative links.

The strongest relationships are between going out, delinquent behaviour, smoking and alcohol consumption. Young people who go out a lot, in relative terms, show more delinquent behaviour, smoke more and drink more alcohol than young people who go out relatively infrequently.

Furthermore, it is striking that for activities from which a delinquency-preventive influence would be expected, in particular being a member of a (sports) club, this influence is not found. There are, however, especially for sports, a number of positive, but weak links found between various other developmental indicators. Young people who do sports or are members of a sports club show somewhat fewer emotional problems and a slightly better relationship with their parents and peers than young people who do not play sports. Moreover, there is a positive relationship between doing sports and the subjective feeling young people have of 'being healthy'.

To complete the picture, the relationships between different leisure activities are examined, considering that it is possible that a pattern consisting of certain activities gives another picture of the developmental yield than individual leisure activities. A distinction is made here between activities that are promoted by government policy and generally assumed to maintain links with positive effects on the state of development (such as sports, membership of a club, volunteer work), and activities that are not promoted and do not necessarily have negative effects, but that are assumed to be damaging if done in excess (such as going out, watching television, using computers). The relationships are also weak, but generally somewhat stronger than the individual links. They point in the expected direction. Young people, who spend their leisure time mainly on sports, canonised culture and membership of clubs, generally score a bit better for various developmental indicators than young people who fill their leisure time mostly with 'unpromoted' activities such as going out, using computers and watching television. This is based on slightly more favourable assessments of academic performance, the relationship with parents and the (subjective) perception of health. In addition, these youth exhibit somewhat less delinquent behaviour. The exception is the relationship with peers, which is generally more favourably assessed for those young people who (also) do many 'unpromoted' activities.

Have we lost sight of the complexity behind participation?

The gap between the assumption that participation in leisure activities has a preventive effect, on the one hand, and the correlations found, on the other, is striking. The correlations found do point somewhat in this direction, but are also weak and not completely convincing. It is not easy to interpret such findings. Several explanations are imaginable. It cannot be excluded that there simply are no strong connections. It is possible that Dutch pupils in secondary education by and large have such possibilities to participate and a generally 'rich' array of leisure activities so that, on average, no significant effects have been found. Perhaps other indicators of the state of development or a more accurate measurement of how leisure is spent would give another (better) picture. Maybe leisure activities only play a significant role for certain aspects of development, such as for accumulated problem behaviour. Maybe stronger connections could be found if more insight could be obtained into how an activity is spent: for example, which books are read or how evenings are spent and how much time is spent on them.

Furthermore, participation need not be indisputably positive. Much is speculated about stress in leisure as a consequence of an overly intensive participation in all sorts of activities, even though research on this topic is rarely available. Moreover, it is also not known whether and how leisure clubs fulfil the pedagogical task assigned to them. The extent to which this task is fulfilled can have an influence on the 'developmental yield'.

In addition, there are several plausible hypotheses about what influences young people's choice of leisure activities: why they participate in them and, linked to that, what young people 'learn' from them. One can thus assume the 'learning and prevention' hypothesis. The emphasis here lies mostly on promoting development, becoming acquainted and involved with different social situations, and preventing problems and problem behaviour. But there are other hypotheses imaginable that have to do with various motives for (non)participation and possibly explain why the links between participation and state of development are so weak. One can, for example, assume the 'pleasure and relaxation' hypothesis, where the emphasis is on leisure being the time for enjoyable things: the time for relaxation. Data on sports indicate that teenagers mostly do sports because they enjoy them. It is possible that the pleasure motive can strengthen certain aspects of development (for example, well-being), but just encourages others (for example, delinquent behaviour).

At this point a reserved attitude is justified with regard to the role leisure plays in youth development. Research on the link between participation in leisure activities and youth development leaves many questions unanswered. The correlations found here are, in any case, weak. More insight into the connection between participation and development, into the reasons for participation and the way in which services give shape to the pedagogical tasks that have been ascribed to them is needed, previous to promoting participation in leisure services, because of their preventive potential.

Part II: Policy interventions

Youth policy has always paid much attention to children and young people who grow up in at-risk situations. Innumerable programmes have been set up to support the development of disadvantaged youth. A few of these programmes are further described in the Youth 2002 Report. To begin with, attention is paid to programmes oriented towards young children (and their parents). This concerns support in upbringing, developmental stimulation, and early childhood education and care. The programmes offered in this framework are aimed at strengthening the upbringing of young disadvantaged children and increasing their chances of development. Furthermore, attention is paid to the 'broad (also referred to as 'community') school', mostly for primary school students and, in some cases, for students in secondary education. The community school can be described as a network or cooperation between schools and non-school services, such as leisure clubs, social workers, police, etc. Lastly, attention is focused on youth criminality. Various preventive and criminal interventions to prevent such criminality are described.

A number of questions are of central interest in this part of the Youth Report, including whether the intended groups of youngsters are actually being reached and what research on the effectiveness of these programmes has shown up to now. Is there a relationship between participating in these programmes and the development of these young people?

Quality of registration figures vary; national figures are often not available

With a few exceptions, there is no consistent registration of programmes that offer support for upbringing and developmental stimulation in the family context, so the reliability of the data leaves a lot to be desired. The limited data that exists gives the impression that the participants do belong to the target group of the programmes. The percentage of the total target group that is reached, however, cannot be stated with certainty. Several estimates indicate a relatively low number are being reached. The majority (three-fourths or more) of the target groups would not be reached by the programmes specifically intended for them.

The Early Childhood Education and Care policy (ECEC) has clear target figures. In 2006 half of all 2 to 5 year-old children targeted (of a total of 100,000 children) must be reached by an ECEC programme. The provision of information about participation in ECEC programmes, however, is partly in its infancy. From some programmes, national figures are available, while from others only data from large cities is available, and from yet other programmes nothing is (yet) known. A total national figure is thus incalculable. The figures that exist give the impression that a supply (of programmes) must be created on a large scale in a short time in the coming years if the target figure of 100,000 children is to be reached.

With regard to community schools, only data at the supply level are available. From this it appears that in 2001 approximately 450 broad schools were in operation. The majority (80%) of these are to be found in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. It is striking that community schools in the preparatory stage are conversely often found in rural areas and in socio-economically stronger neighbourhoods. How many and which children participate in broad schools is not known.

Youth who commit criminal offences that are not too serious can be kept outside the judicial system by sending them home with a warning. The number of young people this pertains to on the national level cannot be said with certainty. Those young people who do not get off with just a warning are charged. Their names are therefore recorded in the official police registry of the Central Office of Statistics. Out of every 100 youth, about four are suspected of a crime. In 2000, a total of 47,200 young people between 12 and 17 years of age were suspected of a criminal offence. Approximately half of them were referred by the police to 'HALT' ('The Alternative'). For the remaining suspects, each charge was forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service. This Service handles almost two-thirds of such cases without the intervention of a judge. The remaining cases are brought before a judge. In 2000 this meant 9200 young people had committed serious and criminal offences. Although these figures make it clear how many youth were prosecuted, it is not clear whether all youth concerned were reached. It is unclear for more than half of the first offenders whether they were prosecuted, and of those young people who were prosecuted it cannot be precisely established in a large number of cases whether there was a response and, if so, what sort.

Much outcomes research has limitations

Various studies have been done on the effects of prevention programmes in the Netherlands. With a few exceptions, these studies have limitations. In a large number of studies there are no control groups, which makes it unclear whether the observed effects can be ascribed to the relevant programme. In addition, many studies are cross-sectional by nature, so the long-term effects are unknown. Despite these limitations, these studies still shed some light on the 'yield' of the programmes investigated.

With respect to programmes that often support for upbringing, evaluations have shown that participation leads to positive results. However, since almost no use is made of control groups, it remains unclear whether the positive results are also in fact the effect of parental support for upbringing. In addition, the positive effects that are found directly after completion of a programme say nothing about long-term effects. For the time being hardly any longitudinal studies are available.

The results of programmes that offer developmental stimulation to children at home are not favourable. In most cases the positive effects of participation can be shown directly upon completion of the programme. However, these improvements, measured in test results, are not maintained in the long term, according to longitudinal studies.

The ECEC programmes seem to yield more benefits. Foreign researchers have shown that under certain conditions ECEC programmes have a positive influence on the educational opportunities of young children. The conditions include beginning at an early age, intensive guidance, a structured didactic approach and qualified staff. These conditions are the same as those that Dutch ECEC programmes need to meet in order to be considered for funding. Some evaluations indicate that long-term effects can also be achieved, such as a better school career, more success in the labour market and less criminality.

Initial evaluations in the Netherlands of two ECEC programmes, 'Piramide' and 'Kaleidoscoop', indicate positive results, albeit of a very modest scope. The effects lie namely in the cognitive domain. Effects on social-emotional development cannot be shown.

The effects of the broad or community school have scarcely been investigated. An initial study of community schools in Groningen does not clearly indicate positive effects with regard to diminishing students' behavioural problems or improving upbringing in the family. No comments can be made on the long-term effects and degree to which the objectives have been realized.

In brief, although it is clear from research that an accumulation of risk factors is linked to the occurrence of serious problem behaviour of youth and possibly of committing punishable offences at a later age, there does not yet exist any clear insight into an effective approach to deal with these issues. Of the prevention programmes mentioned, it often remains unknown to what extent they are effective in achieving their objectives, and similarly about the extent to which the programmes can contribute to the prevention of problem behaviour in the long term. Although research on effectiveness has limitations − it is uncertain whether the programmes currently being implemented are the most appropriate − studies in the area of support for upbringing and ECEC, in particular, show positive effects in the short term. With regard to developmental stimulation of children at home, the programmes investigated appear to yield little or no effect in the long term.

Concerning the effectiveness of criminal interventions, various studies have been made in the Netherlands. These studies face the same objections as studies made on prevention programmes. It remains unclear how young people would have been affected if they had or had not participated in another programme. Much research is being done on the effectiveness of 'task' penalties. These forms of punishment appear more effective than traditional ones, such as imprisonment. Less youth recidivate afterwards and, if there is recidivism, it is less often, occurs less quickly and is less serious. Different studies have also been done on the HALT settlement. Evaluations of the effects of HALT show that HALT youth commit fewer offences after such a settlement than youth from a control group.

Improved registration and outcomes research needed

For youth who are thought to need extra attention and encouragement, it is clear that the registration of participants' background characteristics is lacking at this time. There are barely any national figures. In addition, there is not always a clear delineation of the target group. This makes it difficult to say anything about the reach of the programmes. It is often unclear who is participating in the programmes and whether they are part of the target group. Furthermore, the scope of the total target group is often unknown. For a statement to be made about the reach, there needs to be clear criteria related to the delineation of the target group, and a proper registration of relevant background characteristics of the participants.

Research on the effectiveness of programmes is equally open to improvement. At this time there is little thorough research. Until recently the initation for new programmes, for young people, who could use extra support and have the largest chance of failure, was not done with parallel research on their effectiveness. In part owing to the absence of reliable research, it remains an open question at this time whether the path chosen is the correct one. Are the programmes that are currently being recommended indeed (the most) effective in combating disadvantages? And, is it indeed justified to place so much emphasis on early development, or should policy focus more attention on older children and teenagers, for example, if research shows that there is an 'extinguishing' effect in the long term?

It is often pointed out that future research on effectiveness should consider the interrelatedness of different programmes. An argument for this is that such research could show the increased value of a broad, inclusive approach. This is an exercise that should take place at the local municipal level. The State can, given its own responsibility, fulfil a supportive role in this, for example, by providing financial means. In terms of the national level, it seems most important, in the short term, to formulate clear criteria regarding the delineation of the target group, to generate national figures about the participants of the various individual programmes, and promote research on the (time-related) effects of participating in the separate programmes.