Fostering Adolescent Identity Exploration across the Three Phases of a Camp Program


Many recreational youth programs aim to provide opportunities for psychosocial identity exploration. Identity exploration contains process-specific components involving self-discovery and self-construction (Schwartz, Kurtines, & Montgomery, 2005). Self-discovery is the intuitive sense of fit between identity alternatives and one’s authentic self. Self-discovery involves emotionally focused strategies (e.g., challenging or flow-producing experiences) to encourage individuals to identify their unique potentials and formulate corresponding goals and ideals (Schwartz et al., 2005). Self-construction is the rational consideration of externally presented identity alternatives. Self-construction utilizes cognitively focused strategies such as problem solving and decision-making skills to sort through externally presented options to select the most favorable one (Berman, Schwartz, Kurtines, & Berman, 2001; Schwartz et al., 2005). While youth programs could be effective mechanisms through which self-discovery and self-construction processes develop, it is unclear how these processes might manifest at different phases of the program experience.

Addressing this gap, this study examined identity exploration (e.g., self-discovery and self-construction) during the three stages (anticipation, participation, and reflection) of a youth camp program experience. Participants were 42 youth living with serious illnesses and healthy siblings of youth with serious illnesses, aged 16-18, participating in a week-long residential outdoor camp program. Participants completed the 'I Am Poem,' a tool for soliciting self-described identity narratives, at the beginning and end of the camp program, and again four to five months later. Thematic analysis generated themes and patterns from the data over three time points.

Results showed at the beginning of the program, participants exhibited positive self-regard, angst, hopefulness, desire to connect, and program-related nervousness. At the end of the program, participants exhibited powerfulness, feelings of connection to others, concern about returning from the program, discomfort, and peacefulness. Four to five months after the program, participants exhibited stress, looking toward the future, reminiscing, and contentment.

Further, program-related themes revealed a desire to maximize the experience at the beginning, concern about returning home at the end of the program, and nostalgia for the program for some participants several months later. Findings suggest youth program providers should be more attuned to the anticipation and reflection phases of the program experience for their potential in fostering the development of self-discovery and self-construction processes among youth with illnesses and their siblings. This study provides an identity-based recreation program model and suggests self-discovery and self-construction program design elements that can be applied in youth recreational programs to propel identity development outcomes.


Recreation Management and Policy

Publication Date


Journal Title

Journal of Park and Recreation Administration


Sagamore Publishing

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type