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POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT:
THE CASE OF A WILDERNESS CHALLENGE INTERVENTION
SYDNEY LEONARD SKLAR
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Sydney L. Sklar
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Stephen Anderson, my supervisory
committee chair, for his full and unconditional commitment to mentoring me through my
doctoral education and this dissertation. He has been a limitless source of support and
kindness that I will never forget. My sincere thanks go also to my committee members
Robert Beland, Cari Autry, and Linda Shaw for their guidance, support, flexibility, and
responsiveness. I am grateful to have been able to work with such a group of caring and
My heartfelt appreciation goes also to the youth, families, and counselors who
participated in this study. They shared their time, energy, and stories, to which I hope I
have given accurate voice. Additionally, I am ever grateful to "J Rudy 0" and "Doc" for
their instrumental roles in implementing this study. Sincere appreciation also goes to
Patrick Bird for his generous dissertation award, which funded a portion of this study.
I am especially grateful to my parents, Harris and Bonnie Sklar, and Phyllis Sklar,
for their limitless love and support over the years, and throughout the pursuit of my
doctorate. I thank them for believing in me, standing behind my decisions, reminding me
of my strengths during my weakest moments, and always encouraging me to be my best.
My deepest appreciation also goes to Edward and Lucia Haas, whose love and kindness
have made them more like parents than in-laws, and whose ongoing encouragement and
supportiveness were instrumental in completing this degree.
The deepest of gratitude also goes to my children, Frank and Etta, for the joy,
wonder, hope, and play with which they brighten every day of my life. Most of all, I am
eternally grateful to my wife, Beverly Sklar, a life partner in every sense of the word. I
thank her for all that she has sacrificed over the last four years; for the patience, energy
and effort she has given to this project; and for standing by me with love every step of the
way. This journey has been a long haul, yet rich and rewarding, made immeasurably so
with Bev by my side.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iii
LIST OF TABLES .......................................................... .. ........ ........ vii
LIST OF FIGU RE S ........ ........ ........................................ .. ................. viii
ABSTRACT .............. .......................................... ix
1 IN TR O D U C T IO N ............................................................. .. ......... ...... .....
State ent of the P problem ............................................................................. ........ .2
P u rp o se o f th e S tu dy .............................................................................. .. ... ..
R research Q u estion s............ ................................................................... ...... ....... .4
Limitations and Delimitations .............................................................................4
2 L ITER A TU R E R E V IEW .................................................................... ....................6
Problems Facing Contemporary Youth ............................................... ............... 6
F lo w .................. ........................................................... ................ 8
Self-Determination .................................. .... ......... .............. 13
T therapeutic A dv entire ........................................................................ ..................20
3 M E T H O D .............................................................................2 4
Research Paradigm .................................... .... ......... ............. 24
S e ttin g .................................................................................................................... 2 5
P a rtic ip a n ts ............................................................................................................ 3 0
P ro c e d u re ....................................................................................................... 3 1
4 R E S U L T S .............................................................................4 2
T h e m e s .........................................................................................4 4
P re-T rip A adolescent P rofile ................................................................................... 46
W ild ern ess T rip ................................................................50
P o st-T rip ..............................................................................7 8
5 DISCUSSION .................. ................................... ........... .............. 102
Social C capital Theory ........................................ .. .. .... .......... ....... 103
O ptim ism Theory .................... .... ....... ....... ............ .................... .......... .... ... 113
Proposing a Theory of Positive Youth Development..............................................123
Future Research .................................... ........................... .... ........ 130
A ADVENTURE CHALLENGE EXPERIENCE REFLECTION
Q U E ST IO N N A IR E ...................................................................... ...................... 132
B IN TERV IEW GU ID E S .................................................. .............................. 138
C STAFF FOCUS GROUP HANDOUT ............................................................143
LIST OF REFEREN CES ........................................................... .. ............... 145
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................. ............... 154
LIST OF TABLES
1. A adolescent dem graphics ........................................... .................. ............... 40
2. Parent dem graphics ........ ........ .................................. ............. .. ...... 40
3. Participant family household income....... .. ........................ ................ 41
4. Staff demographics ................................... .. .. ........ .. ............41
5 S taff in co m e .............. ........ .... ......... .. .. ................................................................4 1
6. Data themes summary ............................................... 100
LIST OF FIGURES
1. Thematic relationships in youth development........ ....... ... .... ...... ............ 101
2. Structured youth programming as a means for positive youth development.............131
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT:
THE CASE OF A WILDERNESS CHALLENGE INTERVENTION
Sydney Leonard Sklar
Chair: Stephen C. Anderson
Major Department: Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management
The purpose of this interpretive case study was to explore how a wilderness
challenge experience was experienced for "at-risk" adolescents, to uncover the meanings
of those experiences, and to assess the generalization and transfer of their experiences
beyond the intervention. Two motivational frameworks involving theory of optimal
experience and self-determination were used to guide the study. Using in-depth,
semi-structured interviewing as the main source of data collection, 40 participants
involved with a therapeutic wilderness program were interviewed. Fifteen youth and 18
parents were individually interviewed, seven staff members participated in a focus group
interview, and two staff members were interviewed in follow-up. Three themes
encompassing the topics of challenge, community, and key player relationships were
constructed from the data using constant comparison as the method of analysis. Data
analysis led to the construction of optimal experience, self-determination, social capital,
optimism, and youth initiative as a grounded theory of positive youth development.
Adolescents in today's society face a number of challenges. Inadequate
family-support structures, peer pressure, and the disappearance of social norms have
contributed to problems such as underachievement, delinquency, and overall poor
judgment. Teens who are ill-equipped to deal with the pressures and forces around them
frequently suffer from low motivation and low self-esteem, failure to act responsibly, and
an inability to satisfy needs appropriately (Pommier & Witt, 1995). At this vulnerable
developmental stage, adolescents who face such pressures may be at-risk for social,
psychological, and behavioral challenges that manifest into problems such as school
dropout, suicide, delinquency, substance abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases (Serna
& Lau-Smith, 1995).
At-risk adolescents who are not adequately equipped with skills to generate
self-motivated, meaningful activity are often prone to boredom (Iso-Ahola & Crowley,
1991). Lacking skills to independently seek complex, challenging situations in leisure
and discretionary time, teens become vulnerable to peer pressure and activities of
immediate gratification. In turn, adolescents are often inclined to alleviate boredom
through dysfunctional leisure such as skipping school, substance use (Faulkner, 1991),
risky sexual activity, and delinquent behavior.
Alternatively, adolescents equipped to engage in complex, internally rewarding
experiences in their leisure (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984) are likely to perceive such
experiences as a sense of freedom and self-determination, and they may be more likely to
persist in such behaviors (Coleman & Iso-Ahola, 1993; McCormick & Dattilo, 1995).
Similarly, individuals who feel autonomy, competence, and social support in daily
activity tend toward self-determined behavior (Ryan & Deci, 2000).
Optimal or "flow" experiences have been found to produce feelings of well-being,
freedom, positive affect, and self-affirmation (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 2000; Voelkl &
Ellis, 1998, 2002; Voelkl, Ellis, & Walker, 2003). The ability of adolescents to engage in
complex flow-like situations is associated with overall growth tendency and potential
(Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984).
Statement of the Problem
Adventure programming is thought to generate flow experiences through the
purposive facilitation of challenging activities that require skills, and through the clarity
of goals and immediacy of feedback (Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999;
Freeman, 1993; Haras, 2003). Though documented in nontherapeutic ropes course
programming, the flow experience has not been studied in the context of
wilderness-based adolescent risk-prevention programming. It is unknown to what extent
wilderness challenge experiences for this population are perceived as flow or otherwise,
nor have program factors that produce such experiences been identified. Additionally,
although the literature has documented the need for programs to follow-up with
participants to facilitate learning transfer (Durgin & McEwen, 1993; Gillis & Simpson,
1993; Russell, 2002) research has not examined post-intervention transition in the context
of flow theory. It is unknown whether graduates of these programs are better equipped to
engage in flow experience upon completion of a wilderness experience.
Self-determination (also associated with feelings of well-being) is thought to be an
attribute central to adventure education philosophy (Hill & Sibthorp, 2004; Schoel,
Prouty, & Radcliffe, 1988; Sklar & Gibson, 2004). However, program factors that
influence self-determined experience have not been clearly identified. Autonomy and
competence, both qualities of the self-determined experience (Ryan & Deci, 2000), are
similar to qualities described as flow. It is likely that the two global concepts of
self-determination and flow overlap (Deci & Ryan, 2000). However, relationships within
and beyond the wilderness program context remain unclear.
Wilderness program factors that influence self-determination need to be identified
(Sklar & Gibson, 2004). Likewise, although the adventure education literature purports
to incorporate flow theory into practice (Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999;
Freeman, 1993; Haras, 2003), actual participant experiences of flow in wilderness
challenge programs have not been documented. Finally, if flow and self-determination
are considered to promote psychosocial growth and well-being among adolescents
(Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984; Kleiber, Larson, & Csikszentmihalyi, 1986; Ryan &
Deci, 2000), the nature of how these traits are generalized and transferred must be
documented. Such knowledge can inform instructor training, development, and practice,
as well as overall program design and structure.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study was to describe how a wilderness program for at-risk
adolescents is experienced by students, as understood through the theoretical frameworks
of flow and self-determination, and how these experiences impact transition back to the
home. Specifically, this study aimed to explore program factors and conditions that both
promoted and inhibited flow and/or self-determined experiences. Additionally, this study
aimed to ascertain the meanings of these experiences to the participants. A final purpose
was to assess the generalization and transfer of students' experiences relative to flow and
self-determination. A specific wilderness challenge intervention for at-risk youth, the
"Adventure Challenge Experience" (ACE) was selected as the setting in which to address
these research goals.
* Research question 1: How is a youth wilderness intervention program experienced by
youth as understood through flow theory? What program factors promote flow
experience? What are the barriers to flow experience?
* Research question 2: How is self-determination experienced during a youth
wilderness intervention program? What program factors promote self-determination?
What are the barriers to self-determination?
* Research question 3: What meanings do the students attach to these experiences?
* Research question 4: How are flow and self-determination generalized and
* Research question 5: What are the leadership team's perceptions of program factors
that influence students' experiences of flow and self-determination. What are their
self-perceived roles in facilitating these experiences? How do instructors facilitate
generalization and transfer of flow and self-determination?
* Research question 6: What are the parents' general perceptions of the impact of the
program on the students?
* Research question 7: What are the parents' general perceptions of the impact of the
program on the families?
Limitations and Delimitations
Limitations involve restrictions on a study over which a researcher has no control
(Glesne, 1999). Limitations in this study included aspects of the sample demographics,
data, and research methods. First, the sample lacked substantive racial and
socioeconomic diversity as nearly all participants were Caucasian Americans living
within several neighboring suburbs of a major metropolitan city in the Midwest.
Additionally, as a method of data collection, questionnaires were administered by
program staff and completed by teens during the drive home from the wilderness trip. I
was unable to control the administration of these questionnaires and could not verify the
method in which all questionnaires were completed. Furthermore, several participants
scheduled for interviews failed to keep their appointments and thus were not represented
among the data. A final limitation involved the interpretation of data. I am a white,
middle-class, male academic who specializes in therapeutic recreation and adventure
education, and I guided the data analysis and interpretation.
Delimitations refer to limitations a researcher has imposed deliberately and usually
restrict the populations to which the results of a study can be generalized. (Rudestam &
Newton, 2001). Although results of this study are expected to have theoretical and
practical implications in youth-focused therapeutic adventure, the results should not be
generalized to the entire population of at-risk youth participating in such programs.
Therefore, one delimitation for this study arises from its focus on a specific, racially
homogeneous group of participants of a therapeutic wilderness program. A second
delimitation arises from the selection of the ACE as a research site. This program is not
representative of all wilderness intervention programs for at-risk youth.
Problems Facing Contemporary Youth
The well-being of society depends on the ability of communities to prepare
well-adjusted, responsible, well-educated young people to step forward as the older
generation passes, yet many of today's youth are falling by the wayside (McWhirter,
McWhirter, McWhirter, & McWhirter, 2004). Risky sexual behavior, rising rates of teen
pregnancy, youth gang involvement, poverty, crime, drug use, social isolation, physical
violence, poor access to healthcare, physical inactivity, obesity, and depression are
among the multitude of problems confronting contemporary youth. In a world such as
this, young people face numerous obstacles to achieving healthy psychosocial
Over the past two decades, the term at-risk youth has been widely used (in the
literature on education, psychology, medicine, social work, economics, as well as in state
legislation and reports produced by the federal government) to describe a segment of the
youth population (McWhirter et al., 2004). While use of this term has been controversial
at best, and the literature has lacked consensus on its meaning, one useful definition has
At risk denotes a set of presumed cause-effect dynamics that place an individual
child or adolescent in danger of future negative outcomes. At risk designates a
situation that is not necessarily current but that can be anticipated in the absence of
intervention. (McWhirter et al., 2004, p. 6)
Elaborating on this definition, McWhirter et al. (2004) proposed that risk is not a
discrete, unitary diagnostic condition, but rather resides on a continuum as a series of
steps. Beginning with minimal risk, youth who experience favorable demographics;
experience positive family, school, and social interactions; and have limited psychosocial
and environmental stressors fall into the lowest of risk categories. Increasingly
throughout the continuum, risk factors rise as stressors are compounded, environmental
conditions degrade, and interactions with support systems are negative. Following
minimal risk, levels of risk intensify increasingly through the categories of remote risk,
high risk, imminent risk, and "at-risk category activity" (meaning the individual is
already involved with the activity that defines the risk category), respectively.
Among the many problems confronting at-risk youth is the challenge of structuring
time in productive pursuits. Adolescents spend nearly 40% of their waking hours as
discretionary time (Bartko & Eccles, 2003), and the times when youth seem to make the
poorest activity choices is when they are not in school (Pawelko & Magafas, 1997).
Experience sampling studies show that large portions of adolescent daily life are
experienced as boredom (Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984; Larson, Csikszentmihalyi, &
Freeman, 1992; Larson & Richards, 1991), even among those teens considered to be at
lowest end of the risk continuum (Larson & Richards).
According to Witt and Crompton (1996) developing skills for the constructive
management of discretionary time is paramount to youth development. Yet for all youth,
avoiding boredom by finding constructive and interesting ways to occupy time can be
challenging (Witt & Crompton, 2002). Those who have been exposed to the excitement
of illicit activities and the action and entertainment of video games and popular media,
may require interesting, challenging activities to retain their attention in developmentally
positive pursuits (Witt & Crompton, 2002).
The ability of youth to engage in growth-oriented, appropriate, meaningful,
self-motivated pursuits is an underlying concern of the current study. The absence of
skills for such engagement can lead to boredom; which, when prevalent, may signal a
deficiency in positive development (Larson, 2000). A theoretical approach to resolving
the problem of boredom is discussed next.
The concept of boredom has been studied extensively from a socio-psychological
perspective. Research in this area has been a prevalent theme in the field of leisure
studies for nearly two decades. Researchers have been particularly interested in the
concept of optimal experience, the state of high psychological involvement or absorption
in activities or settings (Mannell & Kleiber, 1997). Csikszentmihalyi's (1975) concept of
flow is particularly useful for defining optimal experience since it identifies various
features of mental activity that can be used to identify perceptions of optimal experiences.
The flow model was originally developed on the basis of extensive interviews with
people who engaged deeply and intensely in their leisure and work. The first studies
included rock climbers, basketball players, dancers, chess players, and surgeons
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1975). Participants described the most intensely absorbing
experiences (in which challenges matched the individuals' skills, and in which they lost
track of time and self-awareness) as the most rewarding of experiences. Later studies led
Csikszentmihalyi to suggest that flow-like feelings such as "concentration, absorption,
deep involvement, joy, and sense of accomplishment-are what people describe as the
best moments in their lives" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1993, p. 176).
A simple model has been used to summarize the basic features of flow theory
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 1990, 2000). Central to the theory is the concept of balance
between challenges and skills. Essentially, the two must be in balance for flow to occur.
When challenge outweighs one's skill level, feelings of anxiety are likely to occur.
Conversely, when an individual's skill level outweighs the challenge presented by an
activity, boredom is likely to result. The complexities of flow states are determined by
the level of the challenge-skill balance experienced. A low-level challenge-skill balance
indicates a less complex flow state than a higher-level challenge-skill balance.
According to flow theory, this optimal balance creates the conditions for a positive
psychological experience characterized by seven specific conditions: clear goals,
immediate feedback, intense concentration/absorption, a sense of control, a loss of self
consciousness, the merging of action and awareness, and the transformation of time
(Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 2000; Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). Flow
experiences have been found to produce feelings of well-being and freedom, positive
affect, and self-affirmation (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Voelkl & Ellis, 1998, 2002; Voelkl
et al., 2003).
Studies of adolescent development use flow framework to research the adolescent
experience. Apart from the early qualitative interviews from which the flow model was
developed, many of these studies have used the experience sampling method (ESM)
(Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984), in which electronic pagers are employed to monitor
how people experience everyday life. Using the ESM, research participants are typically
signaled multiple times throughout the day at random intervals over the course of about
one week. Each time the participant is signaled, the participant is to take out a booklet of
brief questionnaires and complete a series of open-ended and close-ended items assessing
the individual's psychological state at the moment of signaling.
In a study of adolescent school experiences, Mayer (1978) used the ESM to sample
84 high school students as to their relative experiences of challenges and skills, and
compared these reports to the enjoyment of activities throughout the school day. Mayer
found that compared to the most enjoyable of activities, school classes were more likely
to be enjoyable when skills were perceived to be greater than challenges. An interesting
finding was that students were generally not bored while at school. In fact, even when
students had classes that were too easy, they tended to enjoy them rather than feel bored.
Mayer concluded that most of this enjoyment was derived from the recognition and
praise of the teacher, feeling exceptionally competent or superior in the eyes of fellow
students, and simply receiving good grades.
Kleiber, Larson, and Csikszentmihalyi (1986) conducted a study of adolescent
leisure experiences also using the ESM. They collected data on leisure activities and
settings in which the teenagers experienced the most positive moods and became most
psychologically involved. One scale addressed mood and affective states. An
involvement scale asked participants to rate the levels of concentration, challenge, and
skill they experienced in an activity. Additional scales measured intrinsic motivation and
perceived freedom associated with the activity. Activities defined as leisure were
generally experienced as more positive and free. Kleiber et al. pointed out that these
findings are consistent with the view that leisure is relaxing. However, the results
suggest that the leisure activities of adolescents rarely demand much in terms of effort
and concentration, or what might be called flow.
When different kinds of leisure activities were further examined, Kleiber et al.
(1986) found evidence for two categories of leisure experience. One type, "relaxed
leisure" (watching television, socializing, listening to music) provided pleasure without
high levels of involvement. The second category of activities (sports, games, artwork,
and hobbies) was labeled "transitional." These were experienced as freely chosen,
intrinsically motivated and very positive; yet also challenging and demanding of effort
and concentration. Kleiber et al. suggested that transitional leisure offers teenagers a
bridge between childhood and adulthood by demonstrating that enjoyment found in these
activities of their youth can also be found in the demanding activities required of them as
they move into adulthood.
Another time sampling study of youth (Larson et al., 1992) investigated alcohol
and marijuana use among adolescents. In their study, alcohol use was associated with
social contexts and happy, gregarious states. Marijuana use, on the other hand, was
reported across a wider range of situations and differed much less than alcohol from
ordinary experience. Larson et al. suggested that marijuana tended to be a more private
drug, most often used with one or two friends. Unlike alcohol, marijuana was not related
to positive affect; and in school, it was frequently used as an antidote to boredom.
Findings showed that motivations for alcohol and marijuana use had less to do with
seeking positive states than escape from boredom and feelings of oppression in
adolescent life. In related research, the concept of mimetic optimal experience
(pseudo-optimal experience) has been used to describe the experiences of drug addicts
seeking flow through drug use, but failing to experience engagement, control of the
situation, and intrinsic motivation (Delle Fave & Massimini, 2003).
Outdoor adventure education and therapeutic adventure programming is thought to
equip adolescents with skills that contribute to youth development, reduce risk factors,
and improve motivation. Studies of adventure activities have used the flow framework as
a lens for gauging participants' experiences of outdoor-challenge activities. Freeman's
(1993) study of ropes course participation, showed that flow was more common during
later portions of the program sequence, during activities perceived as more challenging
than earlier ones. Increase in flow for some participants was related to an increase in
anxiety for others. More recently, Jones, Hollenhorst, Perna, and Selin (2000) reported
similar findings among whitewater kayakers. As rapids became more challenging,
reports of flow and anxiety tended to increase concurrently.
Finally, Haras (2003) conducted a study of adolescent ropes course programs in
which meaningful involvement was assessed partly using the flow framework. Results
showed that purposive manipulation of program delivery could influence participants'
feelings of anxiety, enjoyment, and meaningful involvement in the adventure activity.
Challenging activities that were more inclusive of wide-ranging ability levels and
personal strengths, and that sought to include all participants at each individual's optimal
level of participation were generally perceived as less anxiety-producing and more likely
to produce group efficacy. Additionally, approaches that "invited optimal participation"
(p. 158) were perceived as providing more choice, a quality of activity congruent with
facilitating flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975).
Although adolescent flow experiences have been documented in adventure
education programs such as ropes course programming, the flow experience has not been
studied in the context of a wilderness-based youth intervention. Furthermore, little is
known about the generalization and transfer of flow-like experiences from
adventure-based settings back to everyday life. It has been suggested that the ability to
engage in flow promotes overall psychosocial development of adolescents
(Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1984). Those who are able to engage in complex
flow-producing activities are less prone to boredom and anxiety and may have
developmental advantages over those who are less inclined to have such experiences.
The adolescent who readily engages in prosocial flow-producing activity, and is
internally motivated to seek more of the same, may face substantially fewer risk factors
than the adolescent prone to anxiety and/or boredom.
The theoretical concept of self-determination has been related to the concept of
optimal experience (Deci & Ryan, 2000). According to Wehmeyer (1992)
self-determination refers to "acting as the primary causal agent in one's life and making
choices and decisions regarding one's quality of life free from undue external influences
or interference" (p. 17). To the degree that one consistently exhibits self-determined
actions, he or she can be considered to be self-determined.
Causal agency is thought to be an innate human need that stems from motivation
(Deci & Ryan, 1985). According to Wehmeyer, "causal agency implies that an outcome
was purposeful and the action is performed to achieve that end" (p. 17). A causal agent is
therefore someone who acts purposefully, and makes or causes things to happen in his or
her life (Wehmeyer, 1995).
Acting in a psychologically empowered manner is considered an indicator of causal
agency and thus self-determination. According to Wehmeyer, self-determined people act
on the basis of a belief that (a) they have control over circumstances that are important to
them, (b) they possess the requisite skills to achieve desired outcomes, and (c) if they
choose to apply those skills, the identified outcomes will result. The psychological
empowerment element of self-determination is theoretically grounded in Bandura's
(1977) theory of self-efficacy.
Another characteristic of self-determination is self-realization. Self-determined
people are self-realizing in that they use a comprehensive (and reasonably accurate)
knowledge of themselves and their strengths and limitations to act in such a manner as to
capitalize on this knowledge (Wehmeyer, 1995). "This self-knowledge and
self-understanding forms through experience with and interpretation of one's
environment and is influenced by evaluations of significant others, reinforcements and
attributions of one's own behavior" (p. 21).
Studies on sport and exercise (conducted in a self-determination framework) offer
much to the therapeutic adventure literature. Thompson and Wankel (1980) tested the
proposition that perceived choice is positively correlated to intrinsic motivation. They
examined the perceived choice of activities in relation to participation persistence in an
adult women's fitness program. Registrants in a commercial fitness program were
randomly assigned to either an experimental or control condition. Subjects in the control
(no-choice) condition were led to believe that a program of exercise had been assigned to
them without considering their preferences. Subjects in the experimental (choice) group
were told that their exercise program had been designed based on their preferences. In
actuality, both exercise programs were designed with an equal degree of activity
preferences. Therefore, only their perception of choice actually differed. Attendance
records over the next six-week period showed significantly higher attendance among the
perceived choice group. These findings support the proposition that self-determination is
basic to persistence in physical activities.
Self-determination is also thought to play a significant role in individual
well-being. Iso-Ahola and Park (1996) examined the roles of self-determination
disposition and leisure-generated social support as buffers against the negative effects of
life stress on mental health and physical health. Self-determination was denoted by
indicators of perceived leisure freedom and intrinsic motivation. The study was
conducted with adults participating in Taekwondo as a leisure activity. Data provided
evidence that social support, an element of self-determination (Ryan & Deci, 2000) is a
moderator of stress. A separate study (Coleman, 1993) used the same measure with a
randomized sample from the general population. Perceived leisure freedom additionally
buffered the negative effects of stress. The combined findings of these two studies
suggest that those who feel their leisure is constrained or not supported are likewise
deprived of a source of coping with stress (Iso-Ahola & Park, 1996). This issue warrants
further study. In terms of therapeutic adventure programming, perceptions of freedom
may be influenced by program structure. How varying perceptions of freedom impact
feelings of well-being is unclear.
Other researchers have acknowledged the need to evaluate client motivations for
therapy within a self-determination framework. Ryan, Plant and O'Malley (1995)
examined (a) the relation of initial treatment motivations to alcoholics' involvement in
outpatient treatment and (b) dropout and the relations among patient characteristics,
severity, alcohol experiences, motivation, and treatment retention. A treatment
motivation questionnaire (TMQ) was developed, using determination theory (Deci &
Ryan, 1985), to assess both internal and external motivations of alcoholic patients for
treatment, as well as confidence in the treatment and orientation toward interpersonal
help seeking. Patients who reported internalized motivation showed greater involvement
and retention in treatment. Those who were high in both internalized and external
motivation demonstrated the best attendance and treatment retention, while patients low
in internalized motivation showed the poorest treatment response, regardless of external
motivation. Problem severity was also related to a greater degree of internalized
motivation, following the presumption that the greater the perception of one's alcoholism
problem, the more motivated the individual would be to follow through with treatment.
The data support the proposition that it is helpful for mental health service providers to
understand the motivations of their clients for treatment.
Similarly, Pelletier, Tuson and Haddad (1997) also evaluated clients' motivation
for psychotherapy. Within the self-determination framework (Deci & Ryan, 1985),
Pelletier et al. developed a scale to assess the specific therapeutic conditions that may
hinder or facilitate clients' motivation toward therapy as well as various consequences
that may arise as a result of this motivation. Construct validity of the scale was
established, as well as support for a motivation continuum relative to self-determination
As Pelletier et al. (1997) suggested, an understanding of client motivations provides
useful information to the therapists planning and structuring therapy to most effectively
meet client needs. When motivations are high and more internal, it follows that a more
self-determined course of therapy might be appropriate, whereas clients lacking internal
motivation and self-determination for therapy might respond better in treatments that
emphasize therapist control.
Knowledge of clients' self-determination in therapeutic adventure settings would
be helpful in the planning of intervention as demonstrated in the treatment of chemical
dependency. Pelletier et al. (1997) found that clients who perceived motivation for
therapy as more self-determined were more likely to experience less tension, less
distraction, and more positive moods during therapy. They also considered therapy to be
important, reported higher levels of satisfaction with therapy, and had stronger intentions
of continuing therapy. Conversely, clients who perceived their motivations to be less
self-determined showed the opposite pattern of associations.
For those who are deficient in self-determined choice-making skills, there are
educational approaches to fostering self-determination among students. Field and
Hoffman's (1994) model of self-determination holds that self-determination is promoted
or inhibited both by factors within the individual's control (e.g., knowledge, values, and
skills) and by variables that are by nature more external or environmental (e.g.,
opportunities for choice-making and support of important others). While recognizing the
importance of environmental variables, the model focuses mainly on factors that are
within the individual's control-the knowledge and skills that enable one to be
self-determined in environments of varying levels of receptivity and support.
The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992, Pub. L. No. 102-569 (1992)
supported the human need for self-determination by clearly stating the rights of all people
to self-determination. This legislation is particularly relevant to educators of youth
because it requires them to emphasize skills that prepare students for the expectations of
the next environment. The growing recognition of the need for self-determination among
youth with special needs took the form of two federal initiatives intended to build a
foundation on which self-determination skills could be taught using systematic methods.
A self-determination-based curriculum was developed by Field and Hoffman (1994) as
part of these initiatives. The curriculum provided an applied methodology to building
self-determination skills for students with disabilities. The provision of such a
curriculum implies that self-determination can be taught and is an educational outcome
necessary for successful transition from school to community integration.
Young people identified as at-risk are thought to be among those who would
benefit from self-determination skill-building. Serna and Lau-Smith (1995) explicated
the necessity of systematically addressing self-determination skills of at-risk youth by
offering a curriculum aimed to help students overcome barriers to successful participation
in school, and family and community relationships. Based on literature review and
construct validation, a self-determination skills list was generated identifying seven
domains relevant to the self-determination of at-risk students: prerequisite social skills,
self-evaluation skills, self-direction skills, networking skills, collaboration skills,
persistence and risk-taking skills, and dealing with stress. A result of the validation
process, Serna and Lau-Smith expanded Deci and Ryan's (1985) definition to include a
philosophy concerning the responsibility one has to oneself or others.
According to Serna and Lau-Smith (1995), self-determination refers to an
individual's awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses, the ability to set goals and
make choices, to be assertive at appropriate times, and to interact with others in a socially
competent manner. A self-determined person is able to make independent decisions based
on his or her ability to use resources, which includes collaborating and networking with
others. The outcome for a self-determined person is the ability to realize his or her own
potential, to become a productive member of the community, and to obtain his or her
goals without infringing on the rights, responsibilities, and goals of others.
Kiewa (2001) synthesized conceptualizations of self-determination from previous
literature into one unifying concept. In a qualitative study utilizing j ournaling and
in-depth interviews, self-determination was described through the salient theme of
personal control that emerged throughout the course of interviews and analysis. Kiewa's
study was unique in that the sample consisted of a community of rock climbers, and
self-determination was studied within an adventure context. Among the climbers, the
concept of control was divided into two categories of meaning. First was the importance
of control over oneself, or feeling competent, in stressful situations. Second was feeling
control over the structure of activity as an important element determining satisfaction
with the rock climbing experience.
Other researchers have applied the self-determination construct within an adventure
programming setting. Sklar and Gibson (2004) found indications that a multi-day
therapeutic wilderness intervention program for adolescent girls positively influenced
self-realization (Wehmeyer, 1995), one of several components to Wehmeyer's
self-determination model. In a separate study of outdoor youth programming, Hill and
Sibthorp (2004) found that a camp experience, when intentionally delivered to support
autonomy and facilitate self-determination skills, had a positive influence on posttest
scores of autonomy, competence, and relatedness, three major components to Ryan and
Deci's (2000) conceptualization of self-determination.
Many adolescents lack the competence necessary to act in a self-determined
manner (Pommier & Witt, 1995). Among other problems, at-risk adolescents may face
peer pressure, isolation, and family stress, complicating efforts to satisfy basic
developmental needs. An effective response to the developmental requirements of youth
includes an approach that helps teach young people to choose alternative, acceptable
behaviors (Eron, 1987), an approach of skill development that advances
self-determination (Pawelko & Magafas, 1997).
Therapeutic adventure programming is thought to provide opportunities for youth
to learn and practice developmental skills for successful adaptive behavior. Several key
studies have investigated therapeutic adventure programming for at-risk youth. Witman
(1993) documented characteristics of adventure programs valued by adolescents in
psychiatric treatment. The characteristics rated highest by adolescent participants were:
helping/assisting others; taking risks/meeting challenges; realizing the importance of
caring about self; and getting support of other participants. In concept, these
characteristics are closely related to the self-determination construct. In terms of
self-determined events, taking risks/meeting challenges suggests an orientation toward
self-initiated, competent action (Ewert, 1989; Ewert & Hollenhurst, 1989). Realizing the
importance of caring about self falls within the autonomy domain as well. Helping and
assisting others is an issue of interpersonal relationships as is getting the support of other
participants. Some level of self-determination would be necessary for any of these
characteristics to be acted upon.
Witman's (1992) research suggested that participants valued the activity process
over content. Suggestions for future research included examination of the specific
characteristics (e.g., taking risks/meeting challenges) to discover participants' perceptions
of necessary components and most valued components of each characteristic.
Developing an understanding of why certain characteristics are valued was also
Expanding on this research, Autry (2001), explored the feelings, attitudes, and
perceptions of at-risk girls participating in adventure therapy activities. Empowerment
was identified as a major experience valued by the participants. Participants referred to
adventure experiences as having helped them gain a "sense of accomplishment" (p. 298),
motivation and sense of control over themselves. Psychological empowerment, which is
characterized by the perception of control in one's life, is a factor contributing to
self-determination (Autry, 2001; Wehmeyer, 1995). Autry's research, however,
identified a disconnect between adventure therapy experiences and the process of
transferring valued aspects of these experiences to the greater context of everyday life.
One implication of this research centers on the critical element of processing facilitators
can use to help clients achieve a deeper level of understand, thus facilitating
generalization and transfer (Gass, 1993; Kimball & Bacon, 1993; Luckner & Nadler,
1997). Both Autry's and Witman's results warrant further investigation of how
adventure programs can help at-risk youth improve feelings of motivation, control and
empowerment, and how such outcomes are generalized among the lives of youth
participants. The self-determination and flow constructs together provide a theoretical
framework for such research.
According to Deci and Ryan (2000), self-determination theory shares a conceptual
correspondence with flow theory (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975) in the common focus on
intrinsic motivation as well as the importance both place on phenomenology. With the
strong emphasis on experience, both concepts appear to have significant application in
the delivery of therapeutic adventure programs. The foundational concept of challenge
by choice (Gillis & Simpson, 1994; Schoel et al., 1988), for example, is widely used in
therapeutic adventure. Challenge by choice links the two concepts through a common
emphasis on participant autonomy and control. Of specific interest to this research is
how the application of these theories may converge among wilderness-based
interventions for at-risk youth.
Therapeutic interventions based on wilderness challenge experiences have been
widely used to help adolescents who have serious difficulties in a number of
psycho-social areas (Davis-Berman & Berman, 1999; Russell, 1999, 2002). Included
among these are low self-esteem, poor self-image, poor decision-making skills, repeated
failures, refusal to take responsibility for actions, lack of motivation, ambivalence,
susceptibility to negative peer pressure, and impulsive behaviors (Hurricane Island
Outward Bound School, n.d.). Considering the definitions of self-determination and
optimal experience presented earlier in this chapter, it would be expected that such youth
might also be poorly self-determined and inadequately equipped to satisfy the need for
flow. These adolescents would likely benefit from the facilitation of self-determined,
flow-producing experiences. The therapeutic adventure literature, however, lacks
substantial research on these concepts. Thus, whether therapeutic adventure programs for
at-risk youth are purposefully addressing self-determination and flow, and whether these
programs are impacting these adaptive skill areas has not been determined. In summary,
there is a paucity of literature describing the conditions that produce self-determination
and flow in therapeutic wilderness programming, as well as the generalization and
transfer of such experiences back to everyday life.
Flow experience is arguably a target goal of wilderness challenge programming.
Similarly, facilitating self-determination is central to adventure education philosophy.
Whether such experiences are being facilitated in therapeutic wilderness programming
for adolescents is unclear. How these experiences can be generalized and transferred is
also unknown. Researching this knowledge gap will better inform the field of therapeutic
adventure and the broad field of youth development as to how youth can engage in and
generate intrinsically motivated, self-rewarding, active, growth-oriented experiences.
This study addresses this gap in the literature.
The interpretive paradigm of naturalistic inquiry (Henderson, 1991; Lincoln &
Guba, 1985) will guide this research. According to Hultzman and Anderson (1991), the
study of perceptual phenomena, such as those of interest to leisure researchers, demands
methods that investigate phenomena in their natural settings. Denzin and Lincoln (1994)
state that qualitative researchers study things in their natural environments, attempting to
interpret or make sense of phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them.
This approach assumes that there are multiple interpretations of reality and that the goal
of research is to understand how individuals construct their own realities within their
In this study, the perceptual phenomena of interest were participants' experiences
of flow and self-determination. The contexts in which these experiences were studied
were within both the wilderness program setting and the participants' post-trip lives. I
sought to interpret the meanings of these experiences as understood by participants. The
purpose of this research was then, in part, to explore how participants' challenge
experiences were perceived within the context of a wilderness program, and how the
experiences were generalized and transferred to one's day-to-day realities.
Within the naturalistic paradigm, a case study method was used to research the
specific phenomena of self-determination and flow within the contexts of participants'
lives both during and after the challenge program. According to Lincoln and Guba
(1985), case studies may be used for multiple purposes including the description and
chronicling of events and phenomena. They are particularly useful when the focus is
some contemporary phenomena within some real life context, over which the researcher
has little control.
According to Yin (1989), there are three criteria for a case study design. First,
research questions should take the form of "how," "what," or "why" questions. The
research questions for this study are both descriptive and exploratory in nature and satisfy
the "what" and "how" criteria. Second, the research requires no control over the
behavioral elements of the study. The topics being investigated in this study call for no
control over participants' behaviors. Rather, the research questions inquire as to
psychological processes that occur both during and after a specific intervention. Finally,
Yin contends a case study must focus on contemporary events. In this study, the
intervention of interest is a current wilderness challenge intervention. The program is
offered once annually, and the research will focus on the experiences of one group of
participants on a given trip. Therefore, the study of self-determination and flow
phenomena will be limited to the experiences of these one-time participants. The context
specific nature of this intervention, combined with the exploratory nature of the research
questions, calls for a case study approach.
"Community Family Services" (CFS) is a pseudonym for a not-for-profit
community-based counseling agency serving a diverse population in the suburbs of a
major city in the American Midwest. The agency mission is to provide counseling "to
families and individuals who are facing issues which interfere with their lives," and to
"offer consultation and education in response to community needs." CFS offers a range
of services including individual and family-oriented counseling, youth crisis and
stabilization, an employee assistance program (EAP), prevention and wellness
programming, and early intervention programming. Among the early intervention
services is the ACE (a pseudonym), the specific therapeutic wilderness intervention under
investigation. Before describing the ACE, an overview of the agency is offered.
CFS counseling services address the needs of children, adolescents and their
families with problems such as peer/sibling conflicts, disruptive behaviors, substance
abuse, physical or sexual abuse, and depression. Individual, couple, or family counseling
for adults may address concerns such as depression, marital discord, grief, post-divorce
conflict, domestic violence, parenting, stress, sexual abuse, and anxiety.
The youth crisis and stabilization service is intended to help emotionally and/or
behaviorally troubled youth remain at home and in the community while avoiding
psychiatric hospitalization or other out of home placement. This service involves a
90-day intensive home-based crisis intervention including screening, assessment,
counseling, and the coordination of support services from other community agencies.
CFS offers an EAP as a service in which businesses can enroll to provide
counseling support for their employees. Included in the EAP is 24-hour crisis
intervention, face-to-face counseling appointments for non-emergency situations,
assessment services, follow-up care and referrals as needed.
Prevention and wellness programs include counseling and support groups as well as
community education workshops available to the public. One counseling group
addresses the needs of children of divorce. Another offers educational and supportive
opportunities to single mothers. The Family Forum Series offers one-time workshops on
topics such as "How to Raise a Drug-Free Kid," "Parenting, the Early Years," and
Among the early intervention programs offered is "Family and Schools Together,"
in which students with their families participate in activities to build communication
skills, positive habits, and attitudes of respect transferable to the home, school, and
community. A postpartum support group offers support and education about postpartum
depression and its effect on the family. The "Tobacco Reduction Among Kids" program
is for youth abusing tobacco products. It is designed to help youth learn triggers that lead
to use, recognize obstacles to quitting, the effects of tobacco on their health, and ways to
manage stress and social pressure.
An additional CFS early intervention programs is the ACE, the program of interest
to this study. The ACE is a therapeutic wilderness program targeting youth considered
at-risk of problematic transition to high school. At the time of data collection, ACE was
in its fifteenth year of existence. Operating with financial support from local public and
private funding sources, the program has been made available on a partial or full
scholarship basis to graduating eighth graders from junior high schools and middle
schools within the CFS local service area. Both males and females are recruited for the
program. CFS characterized ACE participants as being at high risk of a problematic
transition to high school life. According to "Doc" (personal communication, May 11,
2004)-a pseudonym for a CFS staff member-the target group includes youth, ages 13
to 15 years-old, characterized as bored, unmotivated, or under-achieving in class. Some
participants may have difficulty with uncooperative/non-compliant behavior at home or
school. Many of the participants may be seen as socially isolated and/or ineffective, and
severely lacking in self-esteem. Additionally, teens struggling with family or peer
problems are commonly referred to the program. Referrals are made by school guidance
counselors. Past profiles of ACE participants have also included youth from lower
income, divorced or re-married families with histories of family problems. Many of the
youth participants have, at the very least, experimented with drugs and alcohol, and may
be at-risk of developing substance abuse problems (Doc, personal communication, May
Program candidates for the summer of 2004 (many of whom also participated in
this study) were initially referred to the ACE prior to the end of the 2003-2004 school
year and invited to participate in a screening interview in early May. Once selected,
participants began a team building process through orientation and training sessions prior
to the trip. About one month prior to departure, candidates participated in a half-day
challenge course experience and swim test to initiate the process of group development
and provide the senior staff an opportunity for further screening. Candidates were
screened-out and referred to other services if they were unable to pass the swim test, or if
they were behaviorally inappropriate for the program, based on staff assessment.
Additional orientation occurred two to three days prior to departure when selected
students came to the agency site to drop off gear, discuss program expectations, and turn
in personal goal statements for the trip. At this meeting, the students read and signed a
"Full Value Contract" (Schoel et al., 1988) communicating the program expectations of
participants as well as participant rights and responsibilities.
An eight-day canoe trip, occurring in late June, was led by an agency therapist with
extensive experience planning and guiding trips of this nature. He was assisted by a
senior CFS staff member, two junior staff members, experienced ACE volunteer leaders
and other adult volunteer staff members.
Throughout the trip, an "expeditionary learning" model was applied in which
participants were encouraged to continually challenge themselves both physically and
mentally in the unfamiliar and often uncomfortable context of a wilderness environment.
These experiences are generally thought to improve life coping skills and empower youth
for facing future life challenges (Doc, personal communication, May 11, 2004).
The expedition began with a 14-hour van trip to a canoe outfitter in northwestern
Ontario, Canada. The group spent the night at a hotel near the outfitter camp, and
day-two began a six-day wilderness experience in which participants learned and
practiced outdoor living skills in a primitive and remote environment. Prior to launching
canoes, or "putting-in," the large group of 25 students was broken-up into four small
groups of six or seven students with at least two staff members to each group. Each
group then traveled self-sufficiently over the next six days, over the same routes, though
staggered apart. However, the staff members among groups communicated with one
another via portable radios as a safety precaution.
During the six-day wilderness expedition, each group traveled 27 miles, mostly by
canoe. However, the group was frequently confronted with challenging portages in
which canoes and gear were precariously transported over rough terrain.
Portage trails generally vary in condition from compacted and easily-traveled to
extremely rocky, overgrown, hilly, and/or muddy trails. Often more of the latter,
portages are often characterized as some of the most physically and mentally challenging
aspects of the experience. A successful portage often requires significant cooperation,
physical stamina, and determination.
Throughout the 2004 ACE trip, participants encountered numerous physical,
mental and social challenges posed within the natural environment and group context.
Challenges were further influenced by purposive facilitation of staff, the social living
environment, and one's own self-perception. Staff persons routinely provided feedback
to participants regarding counter-productive individual and group attitudes, values, and
behaviors. During the final days of the wilderness trip, the staff begins preparing the
teens to transfer learning by facilitating personal goal-setting for the transition back to
home (Doc, personal communication, July 24, 2004).
On day-seven, each group arrived at a "take-out" location, returned to the outfitter
and spent the night at a nearby hotel. Day-eight began with an early van departure to
return to the agency office that evening, at which point the students were picked-up by
A follow-up component to the wilderness program began in July, about three weeks
after the students' return home. A bi-weekly social group was facilitated by a CFS
counselor who was also an ACE staff member. The group was intended to facilitate
transfer of learning from the wilderness experience into real-world contexts, and to
provide ongoing opportunities for shared recreation, leadership opportunities, peer
support, and further development of friendships between group members. The social
group was to meet on an ongoing basis throughout the subsequent school year.
The primary sample was drawn from one group of adolescents, ages 13-15,
participating in the ACE in June 2004. Following a case study method, the case being the
group of individuals involved with a single ACE trip, I sought to recruit all students
enrolled in the program. The maximum possible enrollment level was 25 students.
Among the 25 teen participants, five had participated in the ACE program in June 2003
and were invited back as peer leaders. One parent or guardian of each student was also
asked to participate. The final sample included 15 youth, four of whom were returning as
peer leaders. Additionally, 17 parents were recruited, as well as one guardian (who will
be grouped with parents from this point forward). Seven staff members were also
recruited. Staff members were interviewed as a focus group, and two staff members were
interviewed in follow-up. Adolescent, parent, and staff demographics are summarized in
Tables 1 through 5.
An ACE staff member who was trained in the recruitment protocol conducted
recruitment. Recruitment occurred one to three days prior to the trip's departure during a
meeting in which participants dropped off gear and signed the Full-Value Contract. The
recruitment process consisted of the recruiter meeting together with the students and
parents to describe the purpose of the study, the methods to be used, and to request their
participation. An appreciation gift was offered to adolescent participants in the form of a
$15 gift card to a local department store. Compensation was not offered to adult
participants. Adolescent research participants were chosen based on their enrollment in
the program, assent to participate, and the completion of an informed consent document
signed by the parent or legal guardian. Parents were chosen for the study based on their
completion of the informed consent document and the child's willingness to participate.
Both children and parents were given the opportunity to choose a pseudonym to help
ensure confidentiality. Those who did not choose a pseudonym were assigned one.
Additional data sources were sought through recruitment of ACE staff members. I
met with these individuals as a group, prior to the start of the trip, to explain the purpose
of the research, the methods to be used, and to request their participation. Informed
consent was obtained at the time of the focus group interview. ACE staff members also
Data were obtained and triangulated through multiple qualitative methods including
open-ended questionnaires, active semi-structured interviews (Henderson, 1991; Holstein
& Gubrium, 1995), and a staff focus group interview. Additional triangulation occurred
by obtaining data from multiple sources, including the students, staff persons, the
students' parents, and my field notes. Individual and focus group interviews were
audiotape recorded for later transcription. Data collection was divided into two
categories: (1) the wilderness experience, and (2) follow-up.
Students' experiences. To address students' experiences of flow and
self-determination during the wilderness expedition, written data were sought on the final
day of the wilderness trip. An open-ended questionnaire (Appendix A) was administered
by the program staff on the final day of the trip. The questionnaire prompted the students
to reflect on the trip in terms of their experiences of flow and self-determination and to
consider the goals they had set for transition back to home. These questionnaires were
administered by the ACE staff. To enhance truth-value and protect students'
confidentiality, students were provided an envelope in which to seal the completed
questionnaire. Students were asked to seal their completed questionnaires inside their
individual envelopes and return them to the staff members. The directions explained that
although staff would be collecting the questionnaires, returning them in a sealed envelope
was meant to ensure student responses would not be viewed by staff. Upon return to the
agency office, the questionnaire envelopes were consolidated into one package by the
ACE coordinator and sent to me by certified mail.
Staff perspectives on flow and self-determination. According to Kreuger and
Casey (2000) focus group interviews are appropriate when the researcher is looking for a
range of ideas, insights or feelings that people have about something. The focus group
interview can further facilitate the emergence of ideas from the group. "A group
possesses the capacity to become more than the sum of its parts, to exhibit a synergy that
individuals alone don't possess" (p. 24).
To gain insights into staff perceptions of students' experiences with the ACE, a
focus group interview was conducted with staff members who agreed to participate in
this study. The focus group took place in an office at the CFS facility five weeks after
the wilderness trip.
Morgan (1997) argued for the use of audio tape as the principle means of capturing
observations within a focus group interview, and that the physical facility be carefully
chosen and setup with the tape recording in mind. Morgan further cautioned against the
use of videotape for recording focus group interviews. Although a tempting alternative to
audiotape, video recordings add an element of intrusiveness and often require
complicated setups with multiple assistants and high quality equipment. Given the
greater invasion of privacy, and that actual data analysis is most often based on
transcripts, audio taping is accepted as the most practical method for recording focus
group interviews (Morgan, 1997).
An audiotape setup, therefore, was chosen as the method for recording the focus
group interview. Participants were seated in a circular fashion in the office and I acted as
the moderator. Three tape recorders were used. The primary tape recorder was located
in the center with two backup recorders at opposite ends of the circle. Good recording
quality was obtained from the primary tape recorder.
Developing a question sequence that naturally flows from one question to another,
and following a progression from general questions to specific, is critical to the success
of a good focus group interview (Kreuger & Casey, 2000). Following the questioning
route model (Kreuger & Casey, 2000), I moderated the interview process which began
with opening questions and progressed through introductory, transition, key questions
and ending questions (Appendix B).
Prior to the focus group interview, staff members were mailed a handout orienting
them to the concept of optimal experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 2000; Voelkl et al.,
2003) (Appendix C). During the interview, just prior to introducing key questions, staff
participants were reoriented to the concept of flow and introduced to the concept of
self-determination. They were then asked to share insights as to how flow and
self-determination were facilitated during the trip, and to identify barriers to such
experiences. Additionally, I asked members to make projections about what skills they
thought were taken from the course related to flow and self-determination. The focus
group interview lasted approximately one-and-a-half hours.
Students' reflections, generalization, and transfer of flow and
self-determination. To further assess experiences of flow and self-determination, and to
explore the generalization and transfer of learning, follow-up interviews were scheduled
with youth who had participated in the wilderness trip. Fifteen youth interviews were
conducted over a two-and-a-half week period. During the adolescent interview, I asked
the students to reflect on experiences of flow and self-determination during the
wilderness phase, and to discuss the meanings of those experiences. I also explored the
issue of whether teens were able to generalize what they had learned, and if so, how.
Eighteen parents were also interviewed during the same timeframe, though separately
from the students, to gain parental perspectives on the impact of the course (see "parents'
perceptions of course impact on students and family," below).
Assessment of generalization and transfer requires a time lapse to occur from the
wilderness program conclusion. Therefore, follow-up interviews were scheduled to begin
no sooner than three weeks after the wilderness course. All interviews lasted a period of
about forty-five minutes to one-and-a-half hours. The previously administered
questionnaire was used as a partial basis for the in-person interviews (Appendix B).
Parents' perceptions of program impact on students and family. Interviews of
one parent of each student were conducted (Appendix B). The parent was asked to
discuss the impact of the course on his or her child and the family. Parents were also
asked to indicate any observations of behavior changes demonstrated by the adolescent,
and to consider the role of the ACE program in influencing those changes.
Follow-up staff observations. The follow-up group facilitators, as mentioned
earlier, had recurring contact with students in the weeks and months following the actual
trip. Therefore, those individuals were asked to provide insights as to the generalization
and transfer of flow and self-determination among the students, and to discuss course
factors they felt influenced this process (Appendix B). These interviews were conducted
via telephone, approximately three months after completion of follow-up interviews.
Relevant comments from the earlier staff focus group were revisited and used to inform
the follow-up interviews.
Researcher field notes. Researcher field notes consisted of notes taken while
observing behavior and nonverbal cues during the interviews. Additionally, insights and
reflections were recorded immediately after interviews and while transcribing tapes.
Data were analyzed using the constant comparative approach, "a systematic method
for recording, coding and analyzing data" (Henderson, 1991). Using the three major
stages of constant comparison, categories of data were first coded and incidents fit within
categories. The categories and their properties were then integrated by comparing them
to one another and with the data. Finally, the categories were delimited for parsimony
and scope and the process of comparison continued until saturation was achieved. The
focus of this technique was to compare individuals, groups of individuals, and the data to
enhance the overall trustworthiness of the research (Glaser & Strauss, 1999; Lincoln &
Guba, 1985). According to Glaser and Strauss, the constant comparative method causes
one to look continually for diversity. Through the ongoing process of comparison, a
researcher specifies concepts, provides assurance of accurate evidence, establishes
generality of a fact, verifies theory, or generates theory grounded in the data. The theory
that emerges may not be a perfect theory, but rather a theory relevant to the behavior and
context in which it is observed (Glaser & Strauss, 1999).
The constant comparative method, as a systematic approach to building theory,
calls for a high degree of intimacy with the data. As interviews are constantly revisited in
the process of coding, recoding, and developing categories, a systematic method of data
organization and retrieval is essential. N-6, a computer assisted qualitative data analysis
(CAQDA) software package designed to relate to the logic of the constant comparative
method was used to this end. According to Seal (2002), a major contribution of this and
similar software is the automated retrieval of text segments that have been categorized to
correspond with some analytical concept. The process can enhance data analysis by
encouraging rigor, though it is not capable of enforcing rigor on the researcher.
According to Dohan and Sanchez-Jankowski (1998), although the researcher can achieve
a high degree of rigor without software, fatigue and memory can impose biases against
which software can help protect. Through the program's ability to scan vast quantities of
data for category-related text, a more careful reading of the text is encouraged.
Therefore, software can simplify and enhance data analysis for the researcher. Yet it
does not replace the process of rigorous human analysis.
Data quality is directly tied to the ability of the researcher to observe significant
phenomena in the course of fieldwork and to recognize what he or she has seen.
While CAQDA can compensate for small failures of detailed observation or sharp
insight, it is no substitute for either (p. 496).
To further enhance the trustworthiness of this research, member checks were
carried out throughout the data collection and analysis process. As Lincoln and Guba
(1985) argued, member checks provide evidence of credibility, a criteria analogous to
internal validity in the positivist paradigm. Further trustworthiness was addressed
through investigator triangulation in which I, my supervisory committee chair, and a
supervisory committee member separately read through the interview transcripts and
questionnaires to produce initial coding, categorization, and broad data themes
(Henderson, 1991). Throughout the data analysis, I met twice with both committee
members as a group, and multiple times separately, to discuss and compare emerging
codes, categories, themes, and theoretical concepts.
The constant comparative technique in this study began with review of post-trip
questionnaires and continued throughout the interview and transcription process.
"Incidents" or units of responses were coded into as many categories of analysis as
possible as categories emerged and as data emerged that fit into existing categories
(Glaser & Strauss, 1999). The categories and their properties were continually
reevaluated through comparison with one another, with new emerging categories, and
with the data (Glaser & Strauss, 1999; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Finally, themes were
constructed from the categories and their properties which were again reviewed and
compared with one another, and with the data, to confirm the data had reached theoretical
saturation (Glaser & Strauss, 1999; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Through the constant
comparative process, themes emerged into a system of relationships, or grounded
theoretical concepts, that were built on the continuity of participant responses, data
categories, and their properties (Glaser & Strauss, 1999; Lincoln & Guba, 1985).
Using the constant comparative method "makes probable the achievement of a
complex theory that corresponds closely to the data, since the constant comparisons force
the analyst to consider much diversity in the data" (Glaser & Strauss, 1999, p. 113-114).
In the present research, the development of theory occurred through the construction of
diverse conceptual categories and themes, and these themes were illustrated through
interview excerpts. The theory was further studied for similarities and convergences with
concepts from the literature review and modified as such. As the theory was delimited,
relatively universal concepts and relationships emerged that were informed by and
supported with concepts from new literature as well as by concepts that were presented
previously in the literature review in Chapter 2.
Table 1. Adolescent demographics
Pseudonym Age Gender Race Yar
Bruce 13 M Caucasian 1st
Hydro 13 M Caucasian 1st
Cari 14 F Caucasian 1st
Chip 14 M Caucasian 1st
Frank 14 M Caucasian 1st
Jessica 14 F Caucasian 1st
John 14 M Caucasian 1st
Megan 14 F Caucasian 1st
Nicole 14 F Caucasian 1st
Taylor 14 F Caucasian 1st
Jeff 15 M Caucasian 1st
Iroquois 15 M Caucasian 2nd
Jiggle Billy 15 M Caucasian 2nd
White Knight 15 M Caucasian 2nd
Wolf 15 M Caucasian 2nd
Table 2. Parent demographics
Pseudonym Age Gender Race
Corcho Not provided F Hispanic
Ellie Not provided F Caucasian
Scuba Dude 36 M Caucasian
Butch 41 M Caucasian
Safe One 43 M Caucasian
Halo 44 F Caucasian
Jenn 45 F Caucasian
Esther 45 F Caucasian
Mae 45 F Caucasian
Summer 45 F Caucasian
Marge 48 F Caucasian
Laughter Lady 49 F Caucasian
Blackjack 49 F Other
Taffy 49 F Caucasian
Mountain Gal 52 F Caucasian
Madonna 52 F Caucasian
Grimace 52 M Caucasian
Dark Eyes 69 F Caucasian
Table 3. Participant family household income
Income in thousands n
No Response 7
Table 4. Staff demographics
Pseudonym Age Gender Race Highest Degree Role
Karlita 24 F Hispanic Bachelor CFS Intern
Brett 29 M Caucasian Master CFS Staff
Kate 30 F Caucasian Master CFS Staff
Elizabeth 33 F Caucasian Master ACE Volunteer
Candace 34 F Caucasian Master ACE Volunteer
Doc 49 M Caucasian Master CFS Staff
J Rudy 55 M Caucasian Master CFS Staff
Table 5. Staff income
Income in thousands n %
$0-10 1 14.3
$11-50 0 0
$51-60 2 28.5
$61-80 1 14.3
$81-100 1 14.3
>$100 1 14.3
No Response 1 14.3
In Chapter 1, research questions were stated inquiring as to the psychological
experiences, and the meanings of those experiences, of the adolescents participating in
the ACE program. Additional questions were stated to gain the insights and observations
of program staff members and the teenagers' parents, both of whom were key players to
the teens' participation in this intervention program. Adolescent participants completed
post-trip questionnaires. Thirty-six interviews were conducted, including individual
interviews of 15 adolescents and 18 parents, a group interview of seven staff members,
and two individual follow-up interviews of staff members.
Through the constant comparative method of analysis, key concepts, categories,
and themes were constructed throughout the process of interviewing, reading, and
rereading questionnaire responses, approximately 1500 pages of transcripts, and
researcher memos. Examination and saturation of categories and themes facilitated the
development of grounded theory, presented in Chapter 5. Data analysis resulted in
saturation of three major themes including 1) challenge; 2) community; and 3) key player
relationships. Conceptually, the three themes that were constructed from the accounts of
the youth participants, the parents, and the staff members, interrelated with one another as
an interdependent system of youth development (Figure 1). Representation of these
themes and their relationships will be addressed in the remainder of this chapter.
"Writing up" qualitative research cannot be approached as a straightforward task,
(Coffey & Atkinson, 1996, p. 109). Reconstructing and representing social worlds and
social actors depends on disciplined, principled choices made by the researcher. As no
single analytical approach ought to be adopted without critical reflection, similarly,
principled choices direct how research accounts are written up and represented (Coffey &
To develop a deep understanding of the emergent themes, I went through a process
of constantly comparing the themes and categories with one another and with the data,
and tested these themes and their relationships as they fit within the two temporal phases
of the ACE program addressed by the research questions. These phases were "wilderness
trip," and "post-trip." My in-depth understanding of the interrelationships between and
among the three themes ultimately developed within the contexts of both phases.
Therefore, although all data were collected post-trip, I determined the emergent themes
would be represented within the contexts of either phase of the ACE program.
Participant talk relating more strongly to wilderness trip experience was categorized as
the wilderness trip phase whereas talk relating to post-trip experience was placed within
the post-trip category.
Before proceeding, it should also be emphasized that in the process of interviewing,
data were inadvertently collected that were not specifically addressed by the research
questions. While the research questions addressed the concepts of experience of the
program and transfer of learning, a portrait of the teens prior to the trip also emerged, and
this illustration ultimately enhanced my overall understanding of the emergent themes.
Therefore, a category of"pre-trip adolescent profile" was constructed, not for the purpose
of fitting the system of thematic conceptual relationships, but rather to represent a
broader context for understanding the emergent themes. The pre-trip adolescent profile
will be presented in the following pages as a foundation for representing the wilderness
trip and post-trip phases of the program.
Finally, the research process was initially informed by the flow and
self-determination theoretical frameworks. While this research was initiated with these
frameworks in mind, the stronger themes that emerged extended beyond the original
purpose of the study. In the pages that follow, it is the bigger story that is told as
illustrated by the three themes derived from the research participants' own accounts.
Before discussing the temporal phases of the program in which the themes will be
illustrated, a brief introduction to each theme will be presented to provide an overall
conceptual overview of the emergent system of interrelated themes (Table 6).
The first among the major themes was that of "challenge" which was broken out
into the three interrelated sub-themes of "individual growth," "social growth," and
"helping." It was no surprise that the concept of challenge would be a major theme of
these research results. Indeed, the method of the intervention program under study was to
purposefully use a major group challenge experience to facilitate positive development
among the youth participants. However, what emerged from the data was a strong
contrast between the characteristics of wilderness trip challenge versus post-trip
Wilderness trip challenge was largely viewed as physically strenuous and
sometimes mentally and/or socially taxing. Overcoming these challenges, both as
individuals and as a group, was perceived (with one exception) as both personally and
socially rewarding. As sub-themes of challenge, both individual growth and social
growth seemed to develop by nature of surmounting challenges as a group and by the
overlapping roles of adolescents necessarily helping one another. The process of
taking-on, negotiating, and overcoming challenges as a group further contributed to the
solidification of group bonds. The reciprocal helping dynamic that emerged in turn
facilitated the formation of community among the peers and staff members.
In contrast to the wilderness trip phase, post-trip challenges-meaning the kinds of
challenges teens faced in their everyday lives after the trip had concluded-had a largely
different set of characteristics. In terms of pastimes, or how teens were spending their
time, a mixture of active and passive activity was reported. Feelings of anxiety and
avoidance of emotional challenges were also reported, as was boredom and frustration in
the absence of challenging activity. Personal and social growth, while prevalent
throughout the wilderness trip, was somewhat weaker among the post-trip accounts.
Compared to the wilderness trip, opportunities to act as helpers among peers were
substantially less prevalent among most post-trip accounts. The act of helping was
instead characterized as teens' willingness to do chores and help around the home.
Furthermore, after the trip concluded, the primary link to peer community was
found in the teens' participation in the follow-up group. The group meetings served to
reinforce social bonds and community established during the wilderness trip. However,
the follow-up group lacked activity with the kinds of physical, social, and mental
challenges experienced during the trip.
An additional theme of key player relationships also emerged. I observed from the
data that bonds between staff and students were strong and supportive of students'
personal development and community building during the trip. Parents, however, who
effectively were non-participants of the program, were absent from wilderness trip
support of adolescent development.
Post-trip links between the program and teens were characterized by strong
supportive emotional bonds. These relational bonds, however, were combined with
program procedures disconnected from extending some of the stronger outcomes of the
wilderness trip. Additionally, post-trip communications between the program and parents
were characterized by an extreme information gap as displayed by parents' limited
knowledge of what their children had done or accomplished during the wilderness trip.
Parent-teen bonds were further characterized by a mixture of supportiveness and lack of
Pre-Trip Adolescent Profile
In the process of interviewing and discovering data, much was learned about the
families and life conditions of the adolescent program participants. Doc, a long-time
social worker and counselor at CFS, and co-founder of the ACE program, described the
profile of youth who were likely to participate.
Our buzzword has always been at-risk youth, and I think over time we've all found
that means a lot of different things. But kids that are at-risk of possible psychiatric
kinds of [problems]. Hospitalization is the traditional form of it. Kids who are
at-risk of doing poor academically and losing their education. Or dropping out of
Doc explained how initial goals of the program were to target struggling students during
their transition out of middle school "to enhance their initial adjustment to high school."
Suggesting a possible contributor to such struggles, Doc estimated that in over the
fifteen years of the ACE program, nearly "seventy percent of the kids in the program
have been through a divorce, and are either living in a step family life or a single parent
life." Such a high divorce rate was not reflected among this year's participating families.
However, of the total group of 25 families involved in this year's program, 11 (44%) had
been through, or were going through a parental divorce. Of the 18 families interviewed,
six (33%) had experienced a divorce in the immediate family.
Frank, a first year teen participant described how he ... just needed a week out
from the house. 'Cause everyone was like fighting at my house." He returned home
from the wilderness trip to learn his parents were "getting a divorce." Hydro, another
first-year male, reiterated Frank's sentiment, describing severe home related stress. "It's
really hard to be happy when I'm at home because my parents are fighting or they're
talking bad things about each other. They're saying mean things or doing mean things."
A female teen participant, Nicole, also suggested feeling frustration over parental
conflict, stating, "My parents are kind of unhappily married. ... It's really confusing."
While parental conflicts caused stress among certain families, some had other life
stressors such as a parent being unemployed. Jiggle Billy, a second-year peer leader,
related how his mother's unemployment had created financial pressures. "My family had
severe money problems 'cause no one would hire my mom." Similarly, Wolf described
how his feelings of social isolation seemed related to his father's unemployment. "I was
having family issues 'cause my dad got unemployed, and we're starting to lose our house,
and I was just more depressed and didn't feel like doing anything with anyone." Marge,
a single mother who was previously unemployed, described how her lack of a job had
been emotionally difficult for her. "It's hard not to take it personally. (In an exaggerated
self-pitying voice) "Why does everybody else have a job and I don't! Wah wah, ya
Black Jack, a single mother of five children who works as a third shift hotel night
auditor, related multiple stressors contributing to family strife and conflict. Her concerns
included ongoing harassment caused by her ex-husband and father of her children who
was also an active alcoholic.
The rules are if he comes out he can't be drunk and he can't have the attitude. And
uh, he chooses not to come. I cannot do anything about that but my kids don't see
it that way. So some of [my son's] yelling is that I'm keeping their father away.
As presented above, family strife and/or family conflict in some form was apparent
in all but a few families participating in the study. The stressors faced by the teens
participating in the ACE program were best summed up by Doc, who stated, "My
overwhelming feeling was that these kids in our group had all been through some really
hard times in their young lives already."
Apart from having to cope with issues of family conflict, most adolescents were
described as having social difficulties among their peers. Lacking confidence to be
assertive with one's peers was a common issue illustrated by Taylor, a first-year female
adolescent. In a situation at school, Taylor felt scared to "be herself' for fear of losing
I had all these friends and then this one person got mad at me. So she got like all of
'em to turn against me. 'Cause they're scared of her. ... I'd always sit there quiet
'cause I didn't know what to say. And I was always scared. ... I didn't want to
lose them as friends.
Other teens seemed to have difficulty making or keeping friends. Cari, another
female first-time participant, seemed resigned to being socially alone. "Making friends?
Well I can make friends, but then I lose them." Laughter Lady, mother of a male
participant, described her son as having problems initiating friendships. "He's really hard
to make friends. He doesn't really feel like he has any friends." Similarly, Corcho,
mother of a first-year male participant, described how her son had seemed to give up on
making friends. "He doesn't, um, have friends to go out with. Yeah he has trouble
making friends. He always has. And he used to try really hard, but I think he stopped
trying." She further connected her son's peer troubles to a deficit in social skills.
He always wants to be in charge. And I think that that's why kids walk away from
him. Because he wants to be in control. ... He always wants to pick what game
they're gonna play or what they're gonna do next.
Doc elaborated on social-behavioral aspects of the adolescent profile describing
them as ". kids that are struggling socially and don't quite know how to fit into their
social experience. [They] get ostracized, get kidded, or get teased."
These teens were lacking friends, as well as skills for making and keeping friends,
suggesting a pre-trip deficit as a predominant theme of this research. Prior to the trip,
most of the adolescent participants lacked attachment to a community of peers. Wolf, a
male returning student/peer leader, described a lack of attachment to peers in his school.
"I've got a lot of problems with the kids in my school. It's just, not the kind of people I
really want to socialize with. So at school I just tend to like ignore people." Candace, a
fourth-year staff member, who is also a middle school English teacher, and former
guidance counselor, provided some insight as to the social barriers these adolescents face:
A lot of these kids come from, at least from our school, they're coming from
experiences where they don't have friends. And they work and work and work to
get into a group, and they're shut out... almost everywhere they turn.
Whether students lacked skills and/or motivation for building friendships, one thing
was clear. Social isolation and failure in building social networks typified the social
experiences of these adolescents prior to the ACE wilderness trip. Additionally, some of
these teens experienced stressful home life situations.
Research questions stated in Chapter 1 sought to evaluate student experiences of
the ACE program, as understood through flow theory and self-determination theory.
Considering that challenging activity was an intentionally applied major element of the
program, experiences of challenge and feelings of control during the trip were thoroughly
investigated and probed to gain an understanding of the students' experiences within
context of the proposed theoretical frameworks. Through the constant comparative
method of data analysis, three major themes emerged: challenge, community, and key
Theme 1: Challenge
Descriptions of challenge
To gain a general understanding of how students thought about challenge, the teens
were asked to define challenge in writing and to elaborate on their definitions during an
interview. Definitions of challenge varied from highly internal experience, to
experiences influenced by environmental and social factors. However all were consistent
in relating challenge to expectations toward the future.
Jessica, a first-time participant, described challenge as having rewarding,
future-oriented outcomes, "Something that's really hard. That you really don't like doing
it, but it would be like worth it at the end." John, also a first year participant, similarly
framed challenge in the context of accomplishment, and connected the concept to future
If you face a challenge and you go through with completing whatever challenge is
ahead of you, then basically you've got that accomplished. [And] if you ever have
to go over that bridge again, you'll have a little more idea of what's going on. And
what you'll have to accomplish.
Bruce's definition diverged slightly from John's. His definition was more
problem-focused and it included both physical and social elements, but also suggested a
goal-orientation. "Challenge to me is having to overcome a problem that [takes] time to
answer." In a similar fashion, Jiggle Billy defined challenge as having to do with solving
a problem, stating, "I think a challenge basically is something you don't think you can
When asked to define the term, Nicole described the perception of challenge as
relative to one's abilities combined with the social resources and supports available. For
Nicole, one's experience of challenge could involve both individual effort and reliance on
others for help. "Sometimes if you can't work through it, then you might need help from
Megan also suggested a relationship between challenge and skills by stating, "It's
gonna take time and you need to learn about it in order to get it done. So it's gonna be
above your ability to do, but you can still get it done with a little work." When asked to
elaborate, like Nicole, Megan indicated that using social resources was a way to negotiate
challenge. "Maybe there's somebody else there that's done it and helping you through
it." Both Nicole and Megan alluded to a challenge-skill relationship, a major element of
Csikszentmihalyi's (1975) theory of optimal experience. They also both suggested a
goal-orientation to facing a challenge, another aspect of the flow concept.
While comparison of the adolescents' definitions with one another revealed a range
of meanings-from personal, internal experience to social, external experience-one
feature of their definitions was consistent. In the eyes of the youth, challenge is a
goal-oriented, forward-looking, future-focused concept.
Research participants were also asked to describe what was challenging for the
teens during the wilderness trip. What emerged from this line of inquiry were primarily
descriptions of camping activities and interactions with the physical environment.
Among these descriptions were activities related to backcountry travel such as paddling,
portaging, and camping. When asked to talk about what was challenging during the trip,
John described his experience with paddling against the elements.
Constantly in the waves, against the wind, against the current. Like, a few of the
days the wind was going one way and the current was going the other way ... so
you had to paddle extremely hard on one side for a few hours. You couldn't switch
off to give one arm a rest.
Paddling was one sort of physical challenge. Portaging canoes and gear packs over
rugged trails was another. Jiggle Billy vividly described struggles with mud and rocks
while portaging a canoe on his shoulders.
The weight isn't the problem, it's just, if you lose balance it becomes the problem.
So you're walking, trying to keep your balance, and then you're stepping in mud.
And one foot might sink deeper than the other, or you might have to slowly pull
your foot out without having your shoe fall off. ... Or then stepping on rocks,
make sure you don't hurt your ankle or you don't slip off and drop the canoe.
From a staff member's perspective, Candace portrayed the interaction between
activity and environment as especially challenging for some of the teens.
For the first two days, we had some pretty tough paddling because of the wind.
And I think right away, kids were forced to figure out what's going on. You know,
[two boys] coming through those narrows. And they were going back and forth
and spinning. You could see 'em give up at times. They just both put their
paddles down and the wind would just take them.
A final salient aspect of the physical environment was the recurring topic of coping
with wet weather and equipment. As depicted by Frank:
We flipped a hundred yards from the starting point. All my stuff was wet, and I
wasn't very happy about it. We get to camp, my tent's wet. My sleeping bag is
soaked, my comforter's soaked so when I went to bed, I went to bed with a cold,
very cold sleeping bag.
As illustrated by these common depictions, the physical nature of the wilderness
trip was predominantly characterized by manual travel through rugged terrain and
somewhat foul weather. Additionally, all challenges were initially compounded by the
fact that the adolescents were mostly undeveloped in their outdoor skills training. As the
trip progressed, however, outdoor skills developed and as demonstrated later in this
chapter, negotiation of physical challenges was ultimately perceived as personally
In addition to the physical nature of challenge, teens and staff members described
psychological characteristics of challenge. For example, many students described
elements of the physical challenge experience as requiring intense concentration, a
characteristic of optimal experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 2000). This property of
challenge was evident in Jeff s description of portaging.
I had to really think what I was doin'. I wasn't really thinking' of giving up, then.
'Cause I didn't really want to hurt myself. ... I had to really focus on what I was
doin', looking' forward instead of behind me. .... My friend, he had tripped over a
log and sprained both of his wrists. I didn't really wanna end up like him, so I was
watching ahead of me, and making sure I won't trip over anything.
Frank had a similar, though more intense description of concentration while
I just wanna' get it over with, so I stay focused on it. So I have the canoe up on my
shoulders and it's one of those mile portages. And there's mud and rocks all
over .... I'm hopping from rock to rock. Through trees and stuff. And just going
as fast as I can. Get it over with. And just not taking my eyes off the trail. Not
talking to anyone. Cause I'd need to stay perfectly focused on what I'm doing. ...
I don't want to hop to another rock and miss it, and twist my ankle, have the canoe
fall and break. ... So I have to stay focused.
Similarly Nicole demonstrated how she would stay mentally "in the moment" while
portaging. "When you're going through the portage ... you have to think about what's
going on at the time. And at that time you can't worry about what happened earlier in the
day, and you're not really thinking about what you're going to do next."
One final salient characteristic of the challenge theme was also noticeably
descriptive of the flow framework (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 2000). As reported by the
teens, perceptions of competence were connected to feelings of control and enjoyment of
challenges. Some indicated that as their outdoor skills and feelings of competence
improved, challenges appeared less frustrating and more enjoyable. For Megan,
frustrations with canoeing decreased as her paddling skills improved.
Before I figured it out, I got frustrated because I didn't know how to do it, and, I
just wanted to get it done. And like, just to be able to go. And then afterwards ...
[I] didn't have to think about it that much. It's, it's like a second nature almost.
Likewise for Megan and another female participant, setting up a tent initially
produced frustration, but as familiarity and experience increased, it became
We did not know how to put our tent up. It was, it was awkwardly shaped, and
like, we were missing a pole or something. And so, I got really frustrated, but we
finally figured it out and from there on it was like, a snap to put it up. It was really
Jeff also illustrated feeling competent when asked to tell about the difficulty level
of portaging, particularly when he was feeling highly focused. He described carrying a
canoe as, "Just right. Not too hard, not too easy. Just like, right, for me. Where I can
Many also described activities of the trip as "fun," in which enjoyment was
connected to novelty, a concept also related to optimal experience (Csikszentmihalyi,
1975). Nicole, for example, described strenuous portaging as enjoyable. "A lot of them
were, like, just a lot of fun. Like, it's fun to go through." Asked to explain what could
make a portage fun, she described a combination of frustrating activity and welcome
Well, even though it made it really hard and really annoying at the time, and you
just wanted to get over with it. ... I don't know, they just kind of like changed
things for you, gave you something new to do for the day.
Overall, challenge as experienced during the trip was described as having distinct
physical and psychological properties. Physical characteristics related to both activities
of backcountry travel and the physical environment. Among the psychological
descriptions of challenge were accounts of intense concentration, attitudes of
perseverance, perceptions of competence, and feelings of both frustration and enjoyment.
With the exception of one teen participant whose account diverged from the stronger
theme of challenge, students talked about challenging experiences within positive
contexts reflective of the flow framework. Where obstacles or barriers to optimal
experience were encountered during the wilderness trip, students reported engaging with,
pushing through, and ultimately surmounting these challenges.
As introduced to the reader earlier in this chapter, the pre-trip lives of the ACE
adolescents were characterized by multiple struggles and life constraints. By
participating in this intervention program, these youth encountered situations apart from
and unlike those of their everyday lives. A review of the major theme of challenge
revealed trip characteristics covering a range of experience.
As the research participants talked about challenge, an underlying positive tone
emerged from the dialogue, indicating a sense of growth among the teens. The topic of
growth was therefore explored among the data, and what emerged were two sub-themes:
personal growth and social growth.
Sub-theme 1A: Personal growth
Exploration of interviews, questionnaires, and field notes revealed personal growth
as both experiences and outcomes of the trip. Several data categories were classified as
growth. Among those classified as personal growth were strength, accomplishment,
confidence, personal control, calmness, and perseverance.
Personal growth: strength. As a category of personal growth, both teens and
parents reported feeling physically strong as an important experience and outcome of the
program. For Chip, being "one of the three people" in his group who was able to carry a
canoe made him feel good, that you're physically strong." Similarly, Iroquois
described the "Highway to Hell" portage as ". .. a good test of my hulk-like strength," a
portage where he carried a heavy pack and a canoe at the same time. "It's like to prove to
myself that I'm stronger than I think I am. Because I just think of myself as weak .. ,"
whereas portaging made him feel physically strong.
Nicole described how carrying a canoe on her shoulders was not as difficult as she
had imagined and that it actually made her feel stronger. Upon returning home she was
more willing to take on physically challenging tasks and chores.
There's a lot of things now that I didn't have to do before I went to Canada
Because my dad decided to test my strength a little more give me chores that
I'd never do before .... I'll just go out and do it every once in awhile or help him
with something that requires a little more strength. Because before I would have
been like, "No, I can't lift that." And [now], I might actually go do it.
Esther, mother of a female first-time participant, related her daughter's sense of
gratification to the physical definition she had acquired.
She was pretty proud of her muscles when she got back. She really built up some
muscles and really defined the ones in the forearm and the biceps. You could tell
she was proud of that, because ... we had gone to Sam's to get the salt for the
water softener, and a forty pound bag, she says, "I'll get that." [laughs] No
Hydro also gained a sense of satisfaction from building strength. When asked what
he liked most about the trip, he replied, "Rejuvenation and physical strength through the
program. I really liked that."
Teen participants were also asked to explain how they gained satisfaction or reward
from challenge experience. Wolf, a peer leader, had initially described portaging as
devoid of rewards. However, when probed he identified strength as an unexpected
reward. "I didn't realize that I could do something' like that. [It] made me stronger. Now
that I look back, I realize I got stronger. I didn't really realize that [before]."
As properties of personal growth, both discovery of strength and development of
strength were referred to as experiences and outcomes of the trip. Exercising one's
strength was further interrelated with other outcomes of personal growth, such as
Personal growth: accomplishment. With the exception of one teen participant
interviewed, a strong sense of accomplishment was derived from participating in the
ACE wilderness program. As an internal, personal experience, John related the idea of
accomplishment to feelings of personal power:
Knowing that you didn't need an engine to go probably thirty, forty kilometers in
the water against current. Just that I had gone all that way under my power. I
had done all that. I felt a sense of accomplishment there.
Specific examples of accomplishments during the trip were related on many levels.
For Taylor, learning to set up a tent was especially meaningful.
Ever since the first day, I put up the tent. ... It [meant] a lot because I had never set
up a tent and I had never known how and then when I had set it up, I was all proud
of myself. Because I had done it right.
Pushing through a long paddle into the waves and wind was recounted by Hydro as
being a major accomplishment. Asked to talk about an example of what was challenging
about the trip, Hydro recounted paddling through an open-water bay.
The waves were three feet to five feet high and I pushed myself until I actually
started to cry from the pain in my arms but after getting through I was so proud of
myself and me and my partner. And it felt so good to get through that part of the
trip. It was great. 'Cause you knew you pushed yourself that hard. And you knew
that you got through.
In addition to camping and paddling, portaging was described as one of the most
challenging activities that created feelings of success. When asked to describe the most
satisfying challenges, Nicole declared, "The most satisfying part was being able to
complete a long, hard portage and looking back at it and being able to say, 'Wow! I
portaged a canoe over that?'"
As a topic of accomplishment, Jiggle Billy demonstrated tenacity associated with
overcoming or defeating the recurring obstacle of potentially spirit-breaking mud.
"There was so much of it, and I swear sometimes mud is put there to make you fall.
Or, not be able to move. And when you do the opposite of what it's there for, you've
truly beaten it." I wondered aloud if he was "making a game out of it." Jiggle Billy
[That's a] good way of saying it. It's like, okay the mud's trying' to beat me. ...
The whole idea is ... you're trying' to beat the mud at its own game. It's trying' to
make you fall. ... It's trying' to tip you, it's trying' to get you stuck. Do the opposite.
Don't get stuck, don't fall over and keep goin' through it.
Frank was a first year student whose goals for the trip included controlling his
anger. While some related the idea of accomplishment in terms of physical experience,
for Frank, accomplishment was represented by a combination of overcoming physical
obstacles while controlling his emotions. Asked to describe his accomplishments he
stated, ... Just getting that closer to your destination and actually accomplishing
something. Getting this trip done, without complaining, bursting out in anger, or
anything like that."
Parents additionally related multiple examples of how they felt their children
returned with feelings of having accomplished something big. Mae, for example,
remarked about the deep meaning of the ACE trip experience to her son.
He had so much more in him than he'd realized. He was astounded, himself, that
he could paddle a canoe so long and he had never done it before. I definitely know
that that was a big part of this. Just realizing how much he could do. And proud of
Similarly, when asked what his daughter liked most about the trip, Safe One, stated:
I think just the self-fulfillment that she could do what she did, actually. She came
out of it. I hear it was tough, it sounds like. And ... it sounded like she took a
leadership role and she's, came out of, uh, with, m, I think she feels more
It became clear from the many references to accomplishment from students, parents, and
staff alike, the vast majority of adolescents emerged from the program with a sense of
Personal growth: confidence. Intertwined with talk about accomplishment was
the related topic of confidence, both aspects of personal growth that were commonly
discussed together. Safe One's statement above, for example, suggested a link between
his daughter's accomplishments and increased sense of confidence. This illustration was
a sentiment communicated by others. Marge, a mother of a male peer leader, spoke about
how her son had grown and gained confidence through his perseverance and success with
[He] has always had the problem of being scared of doing new things. And, it
definitely has, shown him he's capable of accomplishing a lot. He just needs to set
his mind to it. And that type of self-confidence, he did not have before.
Taffy, mother of a first-year male interpreted her son's change in behavior as
self-confidence. "He used to always walk around and say, 'I'm ugly.' I don't hear that
no more. He does have confidence in himself, to where it's better and not, putting'
himself down." This kind of observation of her son was similar to what Grimace had
noticed in his son, a peer leader.
He walks, he sits differently. ... He used to be more withdrawn or more insecure
out in public. Now he's got his shoulders back. He's walking tall and he's just a
lot happier kid than he used to be.
Nicole more directly pointed out how the program had helped her develop
self-confidence. When asked how she had been able to use at home what she learned
during the trip, Nicole described feeling more confident in her abilities as a result of the
... you do realize that things aren't exactly that hard. Like, when you're out in the
middle of nowhere and your resources are limited and you have to deal with and be
with the same group of people all day for a week. You can just go through a lot
more without even thinking about it. When before you might have been, like, "No,
I can't do that." And this time you might actually go out and try it.
Similar to Nicole, Wolf specifically addressed confidence as a self-perceived outcome of
the program. He described how after serving as a peer leader, leadership came more
naturally to him. "Seems like I've got more confidence in myself now. ... I was like, 'I
can do this.'"
Personal growth: personal control. While strength, accomplishment, and
confidence emerged naturally as categories from the sub-theme of personal growth, a
fourth category of personal control emerged from a line of questioning related to
self-determination. As a theoretical basis for this study, both the experience of
self-determination during the wilderness trip, and the generalization of such experience,
were addressed through questions to teens, staff, and parents regarding feelings of
personal control (Kiewa, 2001). What emerged from this line of questioning was an
underlying meaning of controlling one's anger in stressful situations.
Megan defined personal control as "Having control over your anger and
frustrations over certain things." Asked to talk more about it, she elaborated, "If you can
control your .. like, if you wanna kick this person's butt, you can control that,
controlling your anger, you will just set it aside and do something else or use your anger
in a different way." She was then asked to describe what made her feel like she had used
personal control during the trip, and she stated, "When I did get angry I didn't yell at
people, I didn't take it out on them. I took it out on either, like if we were paddling or
something, I took it out on, just, paddling."
Using the physical challenge of paddling or portaging seemed to help others control
their anger as well. Frank, for example, described how he dealt with his frustration over
another group member's behavior. Canoeing and portaging were key outlets for his
Paddling, we would actually go much faster, because I would be paddling so hard
and so fast, I would just paddle as hard as I possibly could. At the portages, I
would double pack. And carry the canoe and my backpack at the same time. ... So
that was really hard and it would be over those long portages. That would help get
my anger out.
Associated with anger control was the observation by parents of calmness among
the teens after returning from the wilderness. Jenn, a parent of one of the male
participants, observed a reduction in her son's typical bouts of anger. "He hasn't gotten
as angry as quickly as he used to. ... He's more fun. He's more part of the family."
Another parent, Butch, noticed his son seemed more relaxed and thoughtful about
problem management after returning from the trip. "He seems a lot calmer. He's not,
um, jittery like he used to be."
Another aspect of teen calmness observed by multiple parents was a reduced
inclination toward conflict. Safe One's daughter, for example ". .. doesn't argue. She'll
[say] "Yes I'll do it," and she'll get to it. ... There's been a definite change in havin' to
prompt her and push her all the time with doin' stuff."
The parents' observations of teen calmness were supported by the adolescents' own
accounts. During the interviews, teen participants were asked to tell about how they had
been able to use what they had learned during the wilderness trip. Giving the question
some thought, Jessica responded, "Hmm. I think that not freaking out when [I] really
want to. Usually I'm just like, "Oh my god I don't want to do this!" And just totally
freak out and not do nothing." Similarly, and more specifically, Nicole responded, "I can
be a lot more calm about certain situations with arguments and other people."
Personal growth: perseverance. An attitude of perseverance was a prevalent
characteristic of the wilderness challenge experience. Jiggle Billy, using alternating
voices to represent an internal dialogue, illustrated how portaging required a high degree
of determination and perseverance.
".. my foot hurts." "Keep moving." "Oh my shoe's about to fall off." "Keep
moving." Because, every step you take is one step closer to the end of the thing.
Sometimes the mud's terrible, or these rocks are pullin' me. You just want to put
the thing down. "Keep moving." Your shoulders might start to hurt. "The faster
you move, the faster it'll be off your shoulders" (laughs).
While the adolescents reported perseverance in multiple forms, staff member J
Rudy connected this concept to perceptions of competence among the teens. "Well my
sense is that typically their life is involved with failures and they're excused from the
experience, or they escape from the experience, or cop-out of the experience." Yet the
ACE program offers youth a different experience:
... the chance to stay with a challenge and see themselves succeed on the other
side of it, that's kind of one of the critical elements of the trip. "Well I don't
know how to get from here to there unless you just do it!" And simply sailing by,
sitting here, and doing nothing is not an option. And I think they see that. Forced
into succeeding, they begin to see themselves as competent.
J Rudy's assessment develops a link between the necessity of pushing through a
challenge, and the outcome of positive self-perception. It is important to note that the
wilderness challenge experience is partly characterized by this link. Compared with
post-trip pastimes and experiences (detailed later in this chapter) the wilderness trip is
unique in this attribute.
From a personal growth perspective, the attitude of "just do it" seemed to also
carry over beyond the trip. Connecting this attitude to everyday experience, Nicole
described how she would now push through conflict situations with a parent.
Just to get it over with and just do it, 'cause it's not like, as much as I might not
want to do it, it's not all about me and I know that. And I'll just find different ways
to just deal with it.
Relating the work of the wilderness trip to his responsibilities at home, Chip
reflected this attitude in tackling his more challenging chores. "Just thinking' about it,
think of how it was so hard, you worked at it, you eventually got it. So just think if you
work hard you can get it."
In a more metaphorical line of thinking, Taylor suggested a parallel between
homework and portaging.
If the teacher gives you homework that you don't want to do, just like think of the
portages that you really didn't want to do. And how you did 'em anyway. And
then you felt, like, good that you had gotten through the mud and stuff.
Finally, in the questionnaire completed at the trip's conclusion, the student's were
asked to state their goals for returning home. Taylor's written goal best summed up this
category of personal growth. "When life has a portage that I really don't want to do, to
just do it."
Sub-theme 1B: Social growth
As outlined above, personal growth emerged as a sub-theme from the dominant
theme of challenge. While personal growth included categories reflecting internal
experience, other categories of challenge suggested external influences. When compared
with the sub-theme of personal growth, these categories grew into an overlapping
sub-theme of social growth. Among the categories classified in the social domain were
social skills and social confidence.
Social growth: social skills. As a category of social growth, development of social
skills was salient. Parents and teens alike indicated improvements in teen social skills.
Madonna, for example, discussed how she felt the trip had helped her son learn how to
interact in more appropriate ways with his peers.
I think going on this helps him learn to interact better, rather than being obnoxious.
... It's helped him being with a group of people day and night for a week. It's
helped him to interact and be more comfortable. ... 'Cause he sees that he doesn't
have to be as pushy to have people like him.
Introspectively, Bruce talked about how he has become a better listener through his
participation in the wilderness trip. Asked to described how he had been able to apply
the experience, he said, "It's helped a lot. ... I used to just talk about myself That's
changed .... I've actually listened to my friends more."
Both Madonna's and Bruce's language revealed how the ACE program helped
teens improve the quality of their social interactions among peers. As a general outcome
category, social skills overlapped with the outcome of social confidence.
Social growth: social confidence. As indicated by the student profile, participants
tended to lack socially supportive networks. Candace was a current staff member and
former middle school guidance counselor with experience in referring students to the
ACE program. She suggested the ACE trip provided teens with avenues for building
social confidence whereas previous efforts to make friends had been met with failure.
I think socially, making friends [during the trip] gives them so much confidence.
'Cause a lot of these kids come from experiences where they don't have friends.
And they work and work and work to get into a group, and they're shut out...
almost everywhere they turn.
The ACE trip, however, gave these teens opportunities to establish new friendships.
Candace continued, "They'd make friends. They're a part of the group, and I think that
confidence carries over into just how they approach school. It doesn't have to be the
socially scary place."
As Candace illustrated, an overlap emerged between social confidence and
self-confidence among the data. Candace's observations were additionally reflected by
the statements of several students. Iroquois, a returning student and peer leader, related
his feelings of self-confidence in the current year to his experience as an ACE participant
in the prior year.
It seemed like no pressure, really. .... 'Cause I know I'm funny enough and I'll end
up being liked. ... So I guess, from the last year it helped me realize it shouldn't
matter how I act, because everybody's gonna like me no matter what.
Taylor more specifically disclosed her view of how the wilderness trip had helped
her become a more socially confident individual.
I am less shy. I'm more talkative .... I'm more confident to be me. I don't have to
be there and act like everybody else is, or dress however everybody else does. I'll
do what I want to do.
Sub-theme 1C: Helping
The topic of helping was a third salient sub-theme of challenge. The importance of
this topic emerged from the exploration of data related to personal growth and social
growth. As students learned to see themselves as competent and capable of
accomplishing major physical, emotional, and social hurdles, they likewise viewed
themselves as capable of making contributions to one another and to the group. This
sub-theme, termed helping because of the assistive nature of teen behaviors, overlapped
with the two earlier sub-themes of personal growth and social growth, which in turn
overlapped with one another.
Asked to describe how challenge had been satisfying to the students, the topic of
helping was brought up repeatedly. Megan, for example, told about how her group had
encountered a set of rapids. She had suggested that paddling up the rapids would be
dangerous, and that someone would need to physically get into the water and pull the
canoes up against the current. Megan took the leadership and sacrificed staying dry for
the benefit of the group. She described how pulling her group up the rapids had been
personally rewarding for her. "I know I did a big thing for the group ... So, I just got in.
It was freezing .... The [satisfaction] came from keeping them dry, knowing that I
kept people dry and knowing I saved them from tipping."
Parents were also asked to relate what they thought had been most meaningful
about the trip to their children. Jenn suggested being helpful was the greatest source of
her son's enjoyment.
I think he liked most the fact that he was so helpful and that everybody looked up
to him. 'Cause he's, so big and tall and strong. ... [In a meek voice] "Oh, I can't
carry this, can you carry it?" So yeah, he'd carry everybody's stuff, because it
made him feel really important. I really think that his helpfulness is what he liked
the best. Feeling needed by everybody.
From a staff member's perspective, Doc commented on how intense challenge,
combined with helping behavior, promoted the kind of deep concentration that
characterizes optimal experience. This example was given in the story of one boy who
seemed totally focused on the chance to be of service to the group.
I'll never forget the, the big guy in our group who pulled all the canoes up [the
rapids]. And I think the act of giving and seeing that he could give so well to the
group in that context. He was just totally focused. I mean he went up and down
that rocky waste-deep water current a whole mess of times. And he was just totally
determined and totally focused on what he wanted to do for the group at that
moment. ... I don't think his life had many experiences where he felt that he could
go to that zone where he could really see himself doing something that really was
valued by others. The group was very supportive and rewarding to him of his
desire and his willingness to do that.
While self-sacrifice and helping others was one aspect of the helping sub-theme,
asking for and receiving help was another. Jiggle Billy, for example, proposed:
Don't think you have to do it yourself. 'Cause if you're trying, then you can ask for
help and someone will help you. 'Cause sometimes when you have a pack on your
back, once you fall down you can't get back up .... And so you gotta ask someone
else, "Can you help me?" and they push it up.
Among the many topics within the data, students acting as helpers to one another
was communicated as a powerfully rewarding experience. Compared with other
emergent categories and themes, it became clear that helping was a key link among the
challenge sub-themes. Furthermore, when factored into the overall theme of challenge, it
was evident that helping, combined with personal growth and social growth, facilitated a
norm of reciprocity that, in turn, contributed to the development of community.
Theme 2: Community
The combination of personal and social growth, having developed through
challenge, fostered an environment of interdependence and reciprocity in which teens felt
satisfaction in contributing to the their group. These ingredients, combined with a staff
intent on supporting student growth, developed into a community of teens and staff that
seemed to represent deep meaning for the program participants. Among the meanings of
community experienced during the trip were characteristics of trust, friendship, and social
Multiple teens showed a development of emotional trust among the group members
that contributed to a sense of community. Trust as an important aspect of the community
experience was most articulated by Hydro.
Well, the people that you're with on the trip kind of be, sorta become your family
on the trip and you learn to share what you can't really share at home with them.
Because you know it's going to be confidential. And at home or specifically at my
house, you know it's probably not gonna be confidential and it's just gonna get
around. And usually come back and bites you in the butt.
Halo also referred to the sense of group trust communicated by her son, a first year
I asked [him] about what they talked about and he said, "Mom, we had a code of
confidence and silence." And I said, "Okay, okay. Say no more." And he said,
"Let me just tell ya." He said, "That we had some really good talks."
Development of trust was additionally mentioned by Brett, a staff member and
agency counselor. He described a sense of openness that had developed among the teens
involved in the program. When asked to explain how the adolescents had come by that
openness, he replied:
I think they've learned to trust each other as a result of the trip. We went through
some rough times and none of us gave up. We supported each other.
Group support, as a category of community, was discussed in several perspectives,
including assistance, encouragement and collaboration through a variety of challenges.
Within the context of physical challenge, Bruce talked about how supporting one another
in the group was central to getting the group over a beaver dam.
The communication skills. Trying to have one person at the top of the beaver dam.
Guiding the canoe while the other person at the bottom pushed it up in order to get
it to the top .... Some people were strong enough to do it, some people weren't ....
If you couldn't do it, then you had somebody else help you.
Asked if strength was a factor in negotiating the dam, Bruce replied, "Strength for
the group was a big key. Everything branched off of that. You have to have a strong
group in order to have communication, focus, patience and all."
Hydro also described the value of group support during challenging aspects of the
There was always someone to help. Even if they were doing something, they
would always come and help you if it was hard. [If] you were carrying a canoe
and couldn't really do it, someone would come up. Or two people sometimes ...
would help you carry the canoe to the end. And it was just really nice to have those
people help. It makes it easier on you because you know there's always someone
to help even in a rough situation.
Doc explained how one boy in the group had been struggling emotionally during
the first days of the trip. But as the week went on:
... you could just see his enthusiasm grow. ... I think this boy really found some
safety in the little community spirit that got created with this group. I think he felt
cared for. And I think maybe for the first time in a long time, he didn't feel so
Friendship development during the wilderness experience was an additional
indicator of community development. The significance of building friendships was
strong. As mentioned earlier, most participants were unlikely to have strong peer
attachments or social networks. Various indications were relayed suggesting friendship
development was an important aspect of the trip. Jeff related how a major goal for his
trip was to make a friend. "I met a couple a new people and they became my friends.
Someone we could talk to on the trip, about our private, personal stuff without people
Jenn, also talked about how establishing friendships was important to her son. "He
made new friends. Which he doesn't do all the time. And he likes that."
The social bonds that developed among teens were evident when Taffy talked about
her son's excitement for the follow-up group. "He can't wait to go Friday. See
everybody again. And, that's givin' him something' to look forward to and, kinda like
reminiscin', and stuff like that."
Laughter Lady also indicated that while her son would generally have difficulty
making friends, the wilderness group seemed very nice. He felt real comfortable
with them." The level of comfort level was reiterated by Megan who described a sense
of family developing among the teens on the trip. "My group became, like a family and I
liked it. I like that bonding and everything."
Two major themes have been presented as they pertain to the wilderness trip. From
the challenge theme emerged the sub-themes personal growth, social growth and helping.
The combined influences of these sub-themes gave rise to an additional theme of
community, a group environment of friendship, trust, and support that grew out of group
challenge experiences. A final theme, key player relationships will now be introduced
and discussed in terms of its relationship to the previous two themes.
Theme 3: Key Player Relationships
The third major theme identified in this research was "key player relationships."
Key players were identified as three categories of research participants: staff members,
parents, and teens, and these relationships pertain specifically to links and bonds existing
between each type of research participant. As these relationships were explored, it
became clear that wilderness trip bonds between staff members and students were strong.
However, a disconnection emerged between both staff-parent relationships and
student-parent relationships, as they pertained to the program. These links and
disconnects are illustrated below.
Program (staff)-teen relationships
Supporting the teens' growth and development throughout the ACE trip was clearly
a goal and priority of the staff program leaders. The effort to help the teens develop and
discover their inner strengths was clearly communicated by Doc.
You want them to think, that it was a really hard experience. And from that came
some strength that you wouldn't have had otherwise. And it seemed like the
more we kind of told them how good they were doing, and how well they were
dealing with the struggle, the better they did.
As Hydro suggested, staff support was critical to his feeling a sense of safety with
sharing emotional material with the group.
I learned basically to be able to show my feelings a lot easier because before this I
didn't like to show my feelings. I kinda suppressed 'em and it's just easier to live
now that I'm able to show those, because thanks to like [my staff leader] they
just helped me to be able to get those out in the open.
For Hydro, a boy who suffered from depression, learning to open up to others was a
powerful experience that encouraged his enjoyment of the trip and further helped him to
enjoy life beyond the wilderness trip. Grimace related a similar observation of his son's
bonds with the staff members. "I think the encouragement and support he got from the
group leaders went a long way towards making him maybe reevaluate how he saw
In the process of staff supporting teen self-discovery, an overall emphasis in
supporting autonomous action became evident in statements made by students and staff
members. Nicole, for example, described a group situation in which she appreciated how
the students were allowed to work out a group problem without adult intervention.
The whole canoe switching was a really big, like, complete group effort. And I
really like the idea that instead of [our staff leader] being like, "Okay, why don't
you two go together, you two go together," he really let us decide. And he
kinda just, like started the topic and the conversation and sorta let us take it from
there. And it really helped our communication skills with each other.
During the staff focus group interview, Brett described his leadership philosophy in
terms of flow theory, one topic of the discussion. In his description, staff leadership was
geared toward helping the adolescents feel in-control.
Because I find that [we are] intervening a lot if they're really bored or if they're
really anxious. But once they get to the point where they're almost, ah, on
automatic pilot with what they need to do, regardless of the challenge, that's when I
feel like we're really bringing out the best in them.
Candace's observations supported Brett's comments and suggested a staff leadership
style that supported student autonomy and encouraged self-determination.
I think [Brett] is right in that the more we can step back and allow the kids to figure
out what works for them and what doesn't, the more likely that is to happen. I
mean obviously the first day or two, they need a little bit more guidance. But
then, really stepping back and letting them [go].
Facilitating students' sense of autonomy was one leadership style staff used to
support their personal and social growth throughout the trip. Another characteristic of
student-staff relationships was evident in how the staff supported development of
community among the groups of students.
As described by Brett, the staff members were intentional about encouraging
selflessness among the teens.
For part of the journey, our group was in front of people and we were getting later
in the afternoon and we were passing campsites, and the kids were like, "Why
don't we camp there?" We were like, "You know what? [Another group] is behind
us." In a way, that's us showing them the altruism of "We're gonna do this [to]
not be selfish."
Candace supported Brett's comments by indicating the collective nature of
individual canoe groups among the larger group of adolescents and staff.
Really we think of our group as our small canoe group, but it's really that whole
group of you know, all four of the groups. And we still make decisions so that all
four groups can be safe.
As a staff, the leaders made multiple references to, and directly acknowledged the
process of building community among the peers. They further illustrated leadership
styles that encouraged collective thought, action, and social bonding.
In addition to encouraging community, overall bonds between staff members and
teenage participants appeared to be strong. Staff-teen relationships were generally
illustrated as beneficial to students' personal and social development, supportive of their
autonomy, and encouraging of community building among the group. Various research
participants related teens' positive regard for the staff members. As told by Madonna,
her son loves the directors that go. ... Oh yeah, he's crazy about all of them. He
talks very highly of them all the time."
As described by adolescents, parents, and the staff members, the counselors
leading the wilderness group were clearly committed to facilitating personal and social
growth among the teenagers. They additionally developed supportive relational bonds
with the teens throughout the trip. Finally, they recognized the meaning of community as
a powerful uniting force among the group, and the staff made efforts to encourage and
help build the community environment.
Program (staff)-parent relationships
While the teens' interaction with staff members and the program facilitated
individual and social growth, as well as the building of community, the parents, in
contrast, sat largely outside of the wilderness trip support equation. The absence of
parents was evident, and a program-parent disconnect was manifest in the parents'
non-participation and lack of knowledge about what occurred during their children's
week in the wilderness.
What became clear was that parents were largely outsiders from the community
that developed among the teens and staff members. Many of the parents wanted to learn
about the trip from their children while the teens had not shared much information with
them. As Mae put it, "Gee. I'd liked to have known a little bit more about it. A little
A common exchange during the parent interviews involved the parent speaking in
generalities about his or her child's experience due to a lack of detailed information. Safe
One, for example, was asked to describe what was challenging for his daughter during the
trip. He answered, "I don't know enough about the specifics. ... I have a general idea of
what they did, but it, it just seems like it was a good solid program."
Laughter Lady, on the other hand, responded to the question with a tone of
Well you know, it's hard because I really don't know what they've done! Ya
know, if they had sessions out there in the canoes, if they had sessions around the
campfire, he won't talk; tell us about it. And so, whatever he absorbed, other than
little tidbits of things, we don't know.
As the lines of communication between staff and parents were further explored,
there seemed to be little evidence of a working relationship. This observation was made
in stark contrast to the open and flowing relationship that existed between the staff
members and teens. Most of the parents simply lacked information about the trip. This
problem was compounded by the fact that teens were generally not apt to share detailed
information about the trip with parents. Summer pointed out:
I was hoping one of the adult leaders in [my daughter's] group would have
contacted me after they got back from the trip just to let me know any thoughts or
things that they observed, or any instances they had with [my daughter] ...
Because when she came home it was really hard to get a lot of stuff out of her ...
As a parent I would like to have feedback as to what they observed [her] to be like
on the trip.
Summer's comments illustrated a central disconnect between program and parents.
There appeared to be no formal mechanism for facilitating parental involvement with the
program or communication with the staff. Rather, the parents' involvement was largely
limited to an initial recruitment meeting, helping the students prepare for the trip
(gathering gear and packing), and transporting them to and from the agency. Beyond this
involvement, parents were mostly cut off from the teens' experiences and
accomplishments in the wilderness.
While the parents had no functional role in the program, they did relate overall
expectations of certain outcomes from the trip. Some parents were pleased with the
outcomes while others were disappointed. However very few of the parents seemed to
view themselves as connected to supporting or extending the outcomes of the trip.
Of the parents who talked about supporting what their children had gained from the
trip, Halo expressed deep interest in helping to extend the experience of her son, a first
year student who had been suffering from depression. Halo told of how she had written
her son a letter to take with and read during the trip.
So I wrote in his letter, "You're going to have to make a decision on how you're
going to act or respond to each thing that comes up. You're going to have to think
before you act." When he came home he had my note all crumpled up on his desk.
And I said, "Oh you read it." And he says, "Yeah." And he gave me a big hug and
he said, "Mom, it meant a lot. It really helped. It really helped." Because I
addressed the things in his personality that I knew that he might have difficulty or
challenge with on the trip.
Like Halo, Grimace appeared to share a close, supportive relationship with his son,
a second year student/peer leader. His language additionally suggested an awareness of
his role in helping his son apply what had been learned. Grimace was an uncommon
example of a parent who seemed to adjust his parenting style to support what his son had
gained from participating in the program.
I think it's improved the dynamic between the members of the family. Things are
[on] a much more mature level than they were before. It's gone from pretty much
myself, my wife, and my older son telling him step by step what [to] do, to
consulting [him] more. I mean, we value his opinions on stuff because he's a smart
kid. And he has insights sometimes that we don't have. So I think we're more of a
team than we ever were before.
Compared to all but a few parents, Grimace's valuing of his son's opinion, and his
encouragement of the team-like dynamic among the family was an exceptional account.
His descriptions of the parent-child relationship were unlike the prevailing attitudes
indicated by other parents who did not appear to see themselves as having a major role in
supporting outcomes of the program.
Of the parents who expressed somewhat disconnected attitudes regarding the
program, Jenn described how her son had been less argumentative with his brother upon
returning home from the wilderness trip. Her interest in relating that behavior to the trip,
however, was negligible. "I've thought about it, the fact that... I did see the difference
in him. But I didn't ... think where it came from. I didn't care where it came from,
Other parents expressed a sense of disappointment in the lack of change resulting
from the trip. Corcho, for example, expected more change in her son than she actually
Maybe I was expecting too much. ... I guess because of what the counselors [said]
that [he] would be a changed man when he got back. ... I was expecting him to
have made some friends. ... I think he pushes people away because he's so
impulsive. So I was hoping that he would be a little more calm.
Like Corcho, Laughter Lady had higher hopes for program outcomes.
It was so nice when he came home. He was just happy, he was excited to see
everybody .... And then about after a week he just turned like his own routine
again .... And I wish it, I guess it's like "Okay we're goin' right back there
buddy!" Just crabby. Just mean, swearing at us and just not being a pleasant
Though Corcho and Laughter Lady provided unusual examples of parents who
were disappointed with the lack of change, these conversations, combined with Jenn's,
demonstrate an observation discovered among multiple parent interviews. Many parents
failed to see themselves as having a major role in supporting or extending outcomes of
the ACE program.
Insights shared by Karlita, a first-time ACE staff member added to the portrait of
parents disconnected from the program. "I hope we can communicate more to the
parents what they did. That the parents could be more involved in helping that
transfer happen." She further described how the dominant post-trip interaction between
staff members and parents involved about five minute conversations in the parking lot
upon their return from the wilderness. Karlita suggested that parents could be key to
extending the outcomes of the wilderness experience. "There's so much the parents don't
know about that these kids did. That I hope that there's a time when they do know,
because the parents could really be so instrumental in helping that transfer happen."
As illustrated by Karlita, the parents were never truly part of the ACE program. Nor
were they ever included in the community that developed throughout the program.
Likewise, as outsiders of the ACE program community, many were apparently
unattached from seeing themselves in the roles of outcome supporters.
Wilderness Trip Summary
As the data have thus far demonstrated, challenges during the trip were
characterized by active physical, social, and psychological experiences. Wilderness trip
encounters fostered individual development illustrated by feelings of strength,
accomplishment, self-confidence, self-control, calmness, and perseverance. Social
development among the teens was typified by socializing, improved social-skills, and
feelings of social confidence. Challenging activity that encouraged both personal and
social growth also facilitated teens adopting roles as helpers to one another within their
groups. The overall challenge experience, as characterized by these attributes,
encouraged the development of community among the youth and staff participants. As
relationships between the key players in this narrative (students, program/staff, and
parents) were examined, strong bonds were revealed between the teenagers and staff
members. While these bonds represented a strong sense of community growing out of the
program, parents were primarily excluded from this group identity.
Given the remarkable growth in personal and social domains as well as the
community attachment that developed from the wilderness program, I was prompted to
consider these themes and categories as they pertained to post-trip experience. An
underlying purpose of this study was to assess the transition and transfer of learning from
the wilderness program to the everyday home environment. While questions related to
that purpose were partly answered regarding experiences and outcomes of the wilderness
trip, to what extent those outcomes were sustained or supported beyond the trip have not
Comparison of post-trip life with wilderness experiences suggested major
differences in the nature of activities and also showed a range of support for adolescent
growth. An additional question, therefore, arose as to the nature of post-trip experiences.
Specifically, I was compelled to ask: Was there anything about the teens' post-trip lives
that helped them sustain or extend what they had gained during the trip (e.g., growth
through challenge and sense of community)? The data were therefore examined for
characteristics of challenge in post-trip experience and to what extent the teens' post-trip
experiences fostered the outcomes of personal growth, social growth, helping behavior,
Theme 1: Challenge
Descriptions of challenge
Through the exploration of the challenge theme within the post-trip phase, three
major categories emerged describing this theme: activeness, passiveness, and emotional
challenge. While activeness did emerge under challenge, this relates more strongly to the
sub-theme of post-trip personal growth and will be discussed later in the chapter.
Passiveness and emotional challenge, however, tended to describe the overall theme of
challenge post-trip and will be described in this section.
Descriptions of post-trip activity mostly developed from a line of questioning and
probes asking both teens and parents to describe how they had been spending their time
after returning from the trip. Many described what I classified as passive activity.
Wolf, for example, described his post-trip daily experience as generally
unchallenging. "Wilderness trip is like where you have to bust yourself. When I'm at
home, I don't really do much because there's nothing' really much I have to do."
Likewise, Jessica related her post-trip activities as non-challenging and boring. Asked
how she had been spending her time, she summarized, "I have just been sitting at my
sister's softball tournaments all summer long. And if I'm not there, sitting inside because
I'm not allowed to leave the house because I'm home alone." Asked what she would do
at home, Jessica replied, "I call all my friends. Just talk to every single one. ... I listen to
music really loud and just lay around with my dog and wrestle her."
Though seemingly a bit more active than Jessica, John described everyday
activities that were largely undemanding. "My normal stuff. Playing X-Box, going over
to my friend's house, taking bike rides. Um, just hanging around."
In their interviews, teens were asked to consider how being mentally focused in the
wilderness was like or unlike being mentally focused at home. Megan compared the two
Well, what helped me [stay] focused then was knowing there was nobody there to
do it, but [now] there is somebody at my house to help me, so that's why I'm not as
focused. There's somebody there that can do it for me.
Probing the idea of intense concentration, a property that emerged from the
psychological domain of wilderness challenge, post-trip activity was largely discussed as
mentally passive. Bruce, for example, said that since he had been home from the
program, he hadn't been involved in any activity that required much mental focus.
Like I said, I've been on the couch a lot. Hanging out with a few friends, but on
the couch mostly. So no mental focus there, except for grab remote, change
channel. That's about the only mental focus I've had to use (laughs).
Also pointing out the prevalence of passive experience, Hydro provided an
example of the how the home environment during summer encouraged boredom. Lack of
responsibility and expectations seemed to play a role. "There's nothing really important
to do at home. Summer is basically like a slack off time for me and it's basically like
the entire summer to me is boredom."
Parent data supported the teens' descriptions of torpid pastimes. Jenn provided a
[He] spends his time either in front of the computer, video games, TV, and then
sometimes he'll go and do things with his friends, but usually they come over and
that's what they do. And he's, his new thing now is, staying up all night on the
computer and then going to bed in the morning.
Asked whether she had noticed any differences in activity engagement after the trip
versus prior, Jenn reflected, "Activity? I think when he came back he did-for a little
while-he did go and do more things. But, he's pretty much back to his normal routine
An attempt was made to identify the characteristics of post-trip experience as
related to the theoretical frameworks of this study. It was learned that many teenager
pastimes were commonly perceived as non-challenging, boring, and generally inactive.
Some post-trip challenges seemed to have been anxiety-producing experiences and
led to avoidant or diversionary behavior. The more significant challenges discovered
post-trip were in fact emotional struggles involving family relationships.
Nicole related how her time at home following the trip had been characterized by
family conflict. Her attempts to deal with the conflict were described as a mental
challenge. Nicole admitted:
I haven't really had to go through a lot that's been too challenging for me, no.
Other than-my whole family situation is kinda', really sorta' messed up. And
that's more of a mental challenge that we were talking about earlier. Where I have
to get along with my mom. And that can, at times, get really hard for me ...
That's where I tend to get out of the house. So, I avoid that when I can.
Hydro described similar attempts to avoid ever-present family conflict in his
home. "I try to be out of the house whenever I can 'cause I really don't want to be in the
house. There's a lot of bad memories there. So I'm not really there that much." Asked
to elaborate on his frustrations, Hydro replied, "Just the family. They haven't been very
cooperative about much. For anyone. Mom and dad getting a divorce, sisters and
brother being annoying."
Both Hydro and Nicole offered examples of stress related to family conflict.
Other students such as Frank, Jessica, and Chip, and parents including Laughter Lady,
Black Jack, Esther, and Jenn alluded to family-related stress as well. For Hydro and
Nicole especially, pastimes were typified by conflict avoidance.
Sub-theme 1A: Personal growth
Personal growth: active pursuits. While post-trip activities did not rise to levels
of challenge and intensity as described in the wilderness, not all accounts of post-trip
pursuits were reported as entirely passive. As an exception, Jiggle Billy, reported being
I'm pretty active, actually. I like to bike a lot. So if I can get to a place on a bike,
or with a car, I'd probably take the bike. So the last couple days I've been biking
down to [nearby town].
In terms of activity that appeared to contain properties of personal growth, such as
confidence or accomplishment, Jeff suggested he was more interested in challenging
himself after the trip. Describing his adventures with a swimming pool high-dive, Jeff
related his enjoyment with:
... pushing myself until I do something' very high. Which would be scary for me,
but I do it anyway twenty feet high. I flip and dive off of it. At first it's scary
because you're looking' down like, "Oh God!" But then after you do it once, you're
like, "Um, that's not bad. That's like fun."
Another exception to passivity was Esther's daughter who had been traveling with
a friend and attending various camps throughout the summer. Esther explained how her
teenager had spent little time at home since the end of the trip, and that she was currently
preparing to depart for another camp experience. "The girl's been busy. She goes from
camp to trip, to-this is the first time I've seen her since the wilderness trip for probably
four days. She's just been the little adventurous one this summer."
Since activities that challenged teens physically and mentally contributed to
personal and social growth during the wilderness trip, data representing post-trip active
pursuits were searched for similar properties. Limited representations of these
characteristics were found and described.
Personal growth: strength. In the course of interviewing, teens were asked about
what activities they had perceived as satisfying during the wilderness experience. As
noted earlier in the chapter, Chip and others suggested that portaging had been satisfying
as it made them feel strong. Asked to describe post-trip activities that made him feel that
way, Chip said, "I'm rolling hay everyday. I'll do it like a lot. Rolling hay really helps.
'Cause I, I could do it. Ya know it's really tiring but, yeah." Another reference to
post-trip feelings of strength was related by Nicole.
We have a pool in our backyard and sometimes at night we need to put the cover
on. I'd have to ask someone else to help me do it. And oftentimes, it'd be my
sister .... She'd be like, "Aw, I don't want to do that." And I'd be like, "Alright,
fine!" And I'd have to go do it myself. And now it's not that big of a deal to me
Building and discovery of physical strength was a significant contributor to
personal growth during the wilderness trip. Limited examples of activities that contribute
to one's sense of strength were discovered in the post-trip data.
While there were several indications of active post-trip pastimes, the predominant
descriptions of post-trip activity contrasted sharply with activities of the ACE wilderness
program. Evidence of activity that fostered feelings of accomplishment, self-confidence,
personal control, calmness, and perseverance-as discovered in the wilderness trip
data-was sought among post-trip data. While only sparse indications of these kinds of
activities or outcomes were found, post-trip activity was more strongly described as
inactive or passive behavior. The theme of challenge was more clearly characterized by
emotional material related to family conflict.
Sub-theme 1B: Social growth
The sub-theme of social growth, as described during the trip, was also compared to
post-trip descriptions of experience. Like personal growth, indications of post-trip
experiences contributing to social growth ranged from nearly nonexistent to clearly
As a category of social growth, socializing was most apparent among post-trip talk.
Marge, for example, suggested her son was more social as a result of having made friends
during the challenge trip. "I think he's, he's more socially interactive now than he was. I
think now he's more reliant on his peer group. Instead of isolating, he's more likely just
to be, social."
Jiggle Billy further described his inclination toward increased peer activity. Asked
to talk about how he had been spending his time, he referred to, "Hanging out with
people. ... I have a lot more friends now. And, biking ... 'cause I've been biking to
hang out with people."
Jiggle Billy also indicated that his social involvement was connected to the friends
he had made during the wilderness trip. Other teens like Taylor, Iroquois, and Wolf
suggested the self-confidence they gained during the trip helped them become more
socially confident and more likely to be socially involved with others. However, a
number of teens did not seem to make substantial changes in the social realm.
Both Corcho and Taffy, for example, described how their sons had made friends
with others during the trip, but had not been in contact with them. Similarly, Laughter
Lady suggested that her son had not brought home any phone numbers or contact
information from the friends he had made. My conversation with John indicated that
most of his post-trip activities had been spent either on vacation with family or
entertaining himself around the home. Bruce's social interactions were limited to phone
conversations, which he said he had to limit as he would get in trouble for "running up
the phone bill." And when asked what her daughter had been doing with her free time
post-trip, Summer replied, "She's by herself. She entertains herself by watching TV,
playing games on the computer, and those little hand held video games. She really
doesn't have any friends."
While social growth as facilitated by everyday post-trip activities varied from
absent to prevalent among individual teens, the major post-trip social influence was the
follow-up group. Staff members described the follow-up group as being a central factor
to extending the outcomes of the program. This topic will be discussed later in this
chapter as the follow-up group relates more strongly to the concept of community.
Sub-theme 1C: Helping
As a sub-theme of challenge, helping overlapped with the sub-themes of social
growth and personal growth among the wilderness trip data. Teens, parents, and staff
indicated substantive adolescent interests in helping or being of service to others.
However, compared to acts of helping in the wilderness, post-trip helping was
substantially less challenging, less social, and generally characterized by teens helping
with chores around the home.
There were strong indications of adolescent interest in helping. Bruce, for
example, told about a recent conversation he had with a friend from the trip. Over the
phone, the two discussed how they could help group members if they were to return the
We talked about canoeing. How we could actually help people gain the arm
strength to keep going and not give up if they get tired and how on the portages we
can actually help by doing what the other person can't really necessarily do.
Bruce's description of his phone conversation illustrated an enthusiasm for assisting or
leading others in a supportive way. While this kind of dialogue was uniquely
self-reflective among the helping sub-theme, more frequent descriptions of post-trip
helping related to teens' acceptance of household chores.
Nearly all the teens were more cooperative and willing to help around the house, as
suggested by both adolescents and parents. Frank, for example showed an interest in
helping around the home, and he connected helping in the home to anger control
strategies he had learned during the trip. When asked how he was able to apply what he
learned in the wilderness, Frank reflected:
Well it's like keeping my anger down and um, being helpful. We have a
trampoline in my back yard. And like if my mom wants to mow the lawn, or my
little brother, or if I want to, I have to pick up the trampoline and totally move it out
of their way. I have to bring it on the driveway .... And I do it by myself. No one
really helps me because I can do it.
A number of parents suggested greater willingness on the part of their teens to
provide assistance with household tasks. For some, this willingness was associated with
an overall improved sense of calmness. Safe One, for example, observed, "She responds
to asking to do some chores a little bit quicker. And she's not as short-tempered as she
used to be." Taffy similarly remarked that prior to the trip, "If, if I, ask him to take out
garbage, (mimicking her son) 'Later!' But [now] he'll up and just take it out. Little
things like that."
Dark Eyes shared that her grandson had been eager to help her around the house
after the trip. "'I'll do that, Grandma.' Or 'Let me have that, I'll put it up.' Or 'I'll walk
the dog now.' You know, he didn't do this before." In a similar sentiment, Marge
communicated her welcome amazement with the helpfulness demonstrated by her son.
It's like, "Who is this child in my house now?" [He is] more helpful around the
house. .... "If there's anything I can do to help." Ya know that kind of stuff. He
may forget it, but at least the spirit's willing.
She further described a story in which they both had worked together to fix a mechanical
problem in their garage.
He and I had to replace one of the rotors in the pulley of the garage door opener.
And, it was hot, it was dirty and it took us a couple of hours to get it done. But, he
didn't give up. He was a great helper. And I mean, the both of us, we both had a
great sense of accomplishment when we got it finished. But he's really a good
helper when it comes to things like that.
Parents who talked about their teens becoming more helpful were appreciative of
the positive change in behavior. Post-trip helping was discussed by both parents and
teens in relation to reduced parent-child conflict.
However, while parents valued adolescent help, talk about adolescents acting in
helpful roles was largely limited to tasks and projects around the household. The kind of
post-trip helping that occurred was weak in peer interaction and broadness of social
impact compared with how teens necessarily acted as helpers to their peer groups during
the wilderness trip. Whereas wilderness-based challenges facilitated a helping role in
which teens were instrumental in reaching fundamental group goals, post-trip helping
was described by parents as a welcome resource and relief from prior conflicts.
Willingness and eagerness of teens to act as helpers was, however, clearly depicted.
Theme 2: Community
As discussed earlier, helping developed as a normative behavior among the
community of members of the wilderness group. The sub-theme of helping further
overlapped and linked personal and social growth during the trip. As an element of the
challenge theme, the group norm of helping became a unifying force that facilitated the
solidification of group bonds and strength of community. These characteristics and
properties were, however, lacking among post-trip accounts described as a mixture of
attachment to, and detachment from, community.
For some of the youth, the community that had been clearly present during the
wilderness trip was lacking from their post-trip lives. What certain teens wanted most
and had the least was community.
Chip, for example, set a goal for himself to "Get more friends and a girlfriend"
upon returning home. However, friendship was an area in which he seemed to be most
lacking since returning from the trip. In addition, his mother indicated the family had not
had time for him to attend the follow-up group, nor did she suggest parental
encouragement to help Chip stay connected with the friends he had made during the trip.
Corcho seemed to acknowledge that making a friend was important for her son, and she
suggested that a friendship established during the trip had been meaningful to him.
He made a friend at the camp, but he gave him his number. But we don't know if
he wrote down the wrong number or what happened. But he's tried calling him and
it's not a working number. But he did tell us that he had a good time with this one
friend at the camp.
However, Corcho failed to indicate an effort to help her son acquire the correct
phone number for contacting his new friend. Laughter Lady mentioned a similar
problem. "He didn't give anybody his number, which I was hoping he would so we
could have some camaraderie. ... He does not have any really good friends." As
suggested by the language of Corcho, Laughter Lady, and others, parents of children who
lacked friends seemed resigned to their children being socially isolated. Furthermore,
there was little parental encouragement or support for their children to maintain social
connections with others met on the trip.
Whereas trust, group support, and friendship were predominant characteristics of
community as observed among the wilderness trip data, post-trip data were largely
devoid of these properties. One major link to community, however, stood out among the
The follow-up group implemented by the ACE program and CFS was described as
supporting and extending adolescents' attachment to the established peer community
through a year-round program. As suggested by Brett, the follow-up group was
instrumental to reducing the adolescents' risk of social isolation.
I think they just, as a group of kids, they just love to be together. If we could be
doing any activity, they just love it, because they're together, they trust each other.
Um, a lot of these kids don't have a lot of friends. So the group that we're doing
now is essentially their peer contact outside of school. So, they have a sense of
belonging and identity.
According to both Karlita and Brett, the follow-up program had been well attended
in the months following the trip, and social interaction among the teens had continued to
expand. However, while this program appeared to have a major influence on
continuation and extension of bonds established during the wilderness trip, the program
also had its limitations. Strengths and shortfalls of the follow-up program will be
detailed in the following section.
Theme 3: Key Player Relationships
The working relationships between key players in this study were examined earlier
in the context of pre-trip and wilderness trip relationships. During the trip, relationships
between the teens and the program staff were deep and meaningful to both parties.
Parents, however, were not participants of the trip. In practice, parents were
disconnected from the wilderness experiences of their children.
Post-trip data was therefore analyzed to discover the nature of key player post-trip
relationships. Talk representing connections between teens, staff, and parents was
examined in terms of how their interactions supported or failed to support program
outcomes, including personal growth, social growth, and community attachment.
Program (staff)-teen relationships
Post-trip connections between staff members and teens were most strongly
suggested by teen and staff participation in the ACE follow-up group, a bi-weekly
post-trip social gathering to which all ACE participants were invited. As indicated by
staff interviews, the bi-weekly meetings were a key factor in encouraging attachment to
and further development of the previously established community. Doc, for example,
pointed out that both teens and parents had named the follow-up group as a major factor
in keeping the kids attached to peers socially.
The community there is really important. ... I think the kids have told you
(addressing Brett, the follow-up group leader) about if it weren't for this group
they'd have nothing else going. It gives them the sense of community. And we
know for a lot of these kids, they've not encountered that yet in their life. The
parents are telling us ... before this program, they weren't seeing too many other
As told by Karlita, the follow-up group was a central force in the strengthening of
community among peers, and was instrumental in the extension of personal and social
outcomes. When asked to describe how she felt the staff had best facilitated the transfer
of learning from the trip, she stated:
The best thing that brought the transfer is definitely the [follow-up] group that we
do. ... It's just so instrumental in their lives .... Every two weeks they're
guaranteed an hour and a half of being with one another. These are the people
that they learned to trust [and] worked on their goals with-these are people that
they know they can be themselves with. And this is the safe place they can talk.
While social bonds had been initiated through shared experiences in the wilderness,
they had been extended and solidified through the follow-up group-a reliable social
support mechanism for the adolescent participants.
In terms of outcomes related to the personal and social growth domains, Karlita
further suggested the follow-up group as playing a role in facilitating both. Specifically,
she was asked to describe how participants transferred what they learned about personal
control. Her response illustrated an overlap between feeling personally in-control and
socially connected. Karlita reflected, "I think that's the reason that so many of them
come." She pointed out how, in her view, the follow-up group facilitated an opportunity
for the teens to feel normal among their peers and thereby feel a greater sense of control
in their typically out-of-control lives.