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Swimming tops leisure list

Youths prefer spending time in the water and keeping in touch with friends

Swimming and social networking top the list of the most common leisure activities, according to a study on how 13 to 31-year-olds spend their free time.

Nearly three-quarters of Maltese youths are satisfied with their leisure, with 44 per cent dedicating their time off to swimming and 42.5 per cent choosing a more sedentary lifestyle by networking online.

The quantitative study, titled Leisure Trends Among Young People in Malta, was carried out by the Office of the Commissioner for Children and Aġenzija Żgħażagħ in July 2012.

Written by senior University lecturer Joanne Cassar and social psychologist Marilyn Clark, it looked at barriers and the time allocated for leisure activities, suggestions and demographic aspects among others.

Of the random sample of 3,000 young people, representing a population of 98,350 drawn from the National Statistics’ Office 2005 census, 1,024 responded to telephone interviews.

Watching TV remained a common activity and international studies showed that, by the time students finished compulsory school, they would have spent more time in front of the TV than at school, Dr Cassar said.

A third of the respondents mentioned going to bars, discos and parties in their free time.

Taking care of animals got the lowest score at two per cent.

The study also measured satisfaction with the amount of leisure time. More than 73 per cent expressed satisfaction – 69 per cent of females and 77 per cent of males.

The most satisfied are the Gozitans, who spend most of their free time on social networks.

The participants were asked what kept them from attending leisure activities and work and school topped the list of barriers; 34 per cent did not have any suggestion on how to overcome barriers.

Dr Cassar said this could be the case because they were satisfied or were passive and lacked critical thinking.

Prof. Clark noted that the most popular leisure activities among all age groups were sedentary.

While lack of exercise had to be addressed, she did not perceive social networking as problematic but, rather, as a different way of communicating, relevant to this day and age.

Computers were a reality, so society had to identify risks and see how it could engage youths through social networking, such as online counselling, or a virtual youth centre, Prof. Clark noted.

Children’s Commissioner Helen D’Amato said the study had been proposed by 14-year-olds who sat on the council for children forming part of her office.

She urged for a regular renewal of such studies to get a clear and evidence-based picture of society.

The CEO of Aġenzija Żgħażagħ, Miriam Teuma, said there should be a holistic body of knowledge about young people within the agency, in collaboration with stakeholders including governmental departments, because research about Maltese youths was scarce.

Studies could also lead to policymaking, according to Family Minister Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca.

Policymakers had to ensure that when it came to access leisure activities there was no distinction between children brought up with their parents or in out-of-home care.

It was important for schools and communities to become a mecca of opportunities for youths, regardless of ability, even if they were substance addicts.

The Government felt the need to create a work-life balance structure as adults too were finding it difficult to find free time.

In the coming days, it would set up a national forum for the family that would discuss legislation and family patterns, Ms Coleiro Preca said.

Facts and figures

• Only 6.3 per cent of Maltese youths participate in youth organisations and volunteering.
• Watching TV is most popular in the southern harbour area, while volunteering is most common in the southeastern area.
• Just 5.8 per cent of young people choose to spend leisure time alone.
• One third of Maltese youths consider work as an obstacle to leisure.

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