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Adolescents' perceptions of their living, working and playing activities


Eveline Pinheiro BeserraI; Leilane Barbosa de SousaII; Maria Dalva Santos AlvesIII; Fabiane do Amaral Gubert IV

I Nurse. Doctor of Nursing Practice. Professor at Universidade Federal do Ceará. E-mail:
II Nurse. Doctor of Nursing Practice. Professor at Universidade da Integração Internacional da Lusofonia Afrobrasileira. Redenção, Ceará, Brazil. E-mail:
III Nurse. Doctor of Nursing Practice. Professor at Universidade Federal do Ceará. Fortaleza, Brazil. E-mail:
IV Nurse. Doctor of Nursing Practice. Professor at Universidade Federal do Ceará. Fortaleza, Brazil. E-mail:





This action research study, to examine adolescents' perceptions of their living, working and playing activities, was carried out at a school on the periphery of Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil. The 25 adolescents selected answered an interview questionnaire and participated in an educational workshop, both addressing their everyday activities. The results showed that child labor, without legal support and in situations of exploitation, is a reality in the participants' lives. Work is sought to meet the financial needs of supporting themselves and helping the family. Leisure activities consist primarily of night parties and extreme sports. After the intervention, the participants recognized the importance of safe professional investment and leisure activities that do not expose them to risk. It was concluded that the use of Models of Activities of Living enables teenagers to think and talk about work, leisure and study.

Keywords: nursing; adolescent; health education; nursing models.




Work is a paid activity, while leisure outside of the working hours is a basic human need complementary to such activity1. Leisure can be understood as a group of activities, after professional, social and family obligations, to which a person can freely commit, whether it be for resting or recreation2.

In a study carried out with thirty teenagers, which analyzed the meaning of work for teenagers, it was observed that they perceive it as a way to escape from their social condition, having money to pay for their bills and some family expenses, however, a negative connotation was identified, such as compromising school, not being appreciated by others, in addition to prevailing the attempt to conciliate a double shift of studying and working3.

The insertion of teenagers in the job market is a controversial subject, due to divergences in the literature regarding the effects of irregular working in their growth, mainly in unhealthy conditions and without legal supervision and standardization4. This process should be subsidized by legal support and the environment should conform to the needs and reality of teenagers. As for leisure, it was verified that among them, prevails the interest in activities related to music, TV, hanging out with friends, sports, church and bars5.

Adolescent work, except in the condition of apprentice, can often be a cause for school drop-outs, which creates future social problems due to lack of qualification. Leisure among youngsters, on the other hand, may place them in a condition of vulnerability such as the premature start of their sex lives, exposition to alcohol and other drugs, risks from extreme sports, among others. Therefore, the aim of this study was to analyze the perception of teenagers regarding their life, work and leisure activities.



This study had the Care Template as the theoretical framework1. It is important to emphasize that the Care Model is comprised of 12 activities. On the present article, it was chosen to expose the results which contemplate the life activities - working and having fun. This article derives from the doctorate thesis entitled Saúde do adolescente: ação educativa mediada pelo modelo de atividades de vida (Teenager health: educational action mediated by the Life activities model, in English) , defended in 2012, on Programa de Pós-Graduação em Enfermagem da Universidade Federal do Ceará. (Nursing Post-Graduation Program at the Federal University of Ceará, in English).

It is a qualitative approach study, carried out at a school located in the Pirambu district, Fortaleza-Ceará, Brazil, which utilized action research 6. The district is located in the suburbs, in a poor community, where a reality of informal labor among teenagers is in place. This study was carried out from April through June, 2011.

The criteria for participant inclusion on the study were: attending school at night, not being part of healthcare promoting acts through the family healthcare strategy and being 10 to 18 years old. Thus, 25 participants between 15 and 18 years old were selected. The subject selection was random and the teenagers were invited to take part and the first 25 who brought the Free and Clarified Consent Term signed by them and their legal guardians who took part in the study.

Data collection occurred at two different times: first, an interview was conducted questioning about life activities of the teenagers, generating information which established the creation of educational seminars, in context with the participants' reality, which constituted the second period of study. In the seminar about life activities, working and dressing, three videos were used and their content generated the discussion. The first one was about a report regarding leisure activities during vacations, sponsored by the municipal administration of a Brazilian city. The meeting aimed to clarify the importance of leisure in the teenager's life, prompting the debate concerning the choice of the entertainment activity. The second one showed a report about a teenager working under the condition of apprentice, with regularized working situation, not compromising school. The third one explored child labor. Data collection during the seminar occurred by means of participant observation and filming.

Data handling was done through discursive practices, which constitute techniques of analysis of repertoires themselves and their interpretation, associating terms and descriptions, to allow their meanings in categories, rankings and theming to emerge 7. The study categories were: Debates about leisure and Debates about work.

Ethical and legal aspects regarding research with human beings were respected, according to Resolution 196/96. The study was approved by Comitê de Ética em Pesquisa da Universidade Federal do Ceará (Ethics Committee for Research at the Federal University of Ceará, in English), under protocol 038/11. To keep the teenagers anonymous, each participant was named with the letter (E) and a sequential cardinal number.



The difficult financial condition brings social risk. Then, sports and cultural programs and oriented jobs were created, intended mostly for residents of suburban districts, aiming to exert social control of the free time, however many youngsters don't interact with such activities or are not motivated by them8.

The seminar about leisure and work activities pointed the teenagers dynamic regarding labor activities and relaxing and recreation practices. Adolescent work is often imposed by financial needs, while leisure for teenagers doesn't appear in the same form for everyone4,9.

Debates about leisure

Initially, the leisure life activity was addressed. Computer resources and sports were observed as means of leisure by the teenagers of the study, as seen as follows:

I think, like... it would be mostly cybercafés, computers and video games. Because practicing sports is a little hard. This applies for both girls and boys. (E1)

Usually the guys like to play soccer. Just a few of them don't enjoy playing soccer. (E5)

The video game is a tool capable of improving cognitive and perceptive abilities, however, negative repercussions may occur with games containing violence 10. Another reality for the teenagers is the virtual world, where the frequency of Internet abuse by them increases and behavioral deficits are apparent in their routines11. It was observed that even though they enjoy regular sports, teenagers seem not to have full access to this mean of entertainment. In a study with teenagers from two Brazilian cities regarding possible association of physical activities with leisure, the predominance of physical inactivity12 was verified, which contribute to future cardiovascular risks.

Within the discussion about leisure, the word thrill emerged, represented by extreme sports.

Depends on the level of risk [...] some really have a radical vein, practice very dangerous sports, like jumping off of cliffs and waterfalls. In the city, it's more about street drag racing, depending of the teenager's style. Those races are felonies since they put their and other people's lives in risk. (E1)

In these teenagers' perception, what motivates youngsters to do such acts is the search for thrill and influence of their friends, their effects on the juvenile age being important items to consider, since the need for acceptance in the group may imply vulnerabilities, like putting oneself's life and health at risk. It is verified that friend's approval in relation to their behavior is a factor which heavily influences the adolescent way of living13.

On the debates, it was also observed that the lack of leisure options directs the teenagers towards the streets and, as a consequence, make them vulnerable to delinquency circumstances. This reality can be identified on the following testimony:

I've watched a report about youngsters who committed robbery and ended up at the Police Station... it was confirmed that nobody had used drugs. I believe that if there were more leisure options, such a stupid act wouldn't have happened. They could've been busy with something else. (E1)

This reflects on the need for more leisure options for youngsters because the activities are promptly stimulated; physical exercises and additional distracting activities which improve the development of abilities and attitudes. In a study carried out with youngsters from Sao Paulo, it was observed that social-environmental segregation creates several negative consequences, such as: less access to essential services, more exposition to health risks, higher tendency to violent behavior and smaller chances of social mobility14. Therefore, leisure areas and essential services to promote good health of teenagers support a healthy growth, less inclined to marginalization. There were discussions about night parties as leisure for teenagers. Such practice starts earlier and earlier because parents allow underage children to spend whole nights accompanied by other underage children.

Teenagers go to parties to have fun (E7).

I speak for myself because it doesn't matter: women, men, teens [...] it's cool to have fun although in parties you can touch bottom. [...] There were cases of several girls being raped, they get the girls drunk so they can do whatever they want. If you let go... there's no turning back. (E10)

Night parties demonstrate imminent risk for teenagers, especially when it implicates drug and sex abuse, being a necessary item of discussion within the teenager's life15. This reality also occurs in other cities, like in Stockholm, Sweden, where an increased incidence of violence and excessive consumption of alcohol among teenagers, at night, mainly in parties and restaurants is observed16.

The following comment exemplifies how flirting during night parties occurs, which may lead to sexual relations.

There's a risk of meeting someone during a party because you can't judge a book by its cover [...]. Because many people in parties are troublemakers, they want to take you somewhere else. (E5)

In a study carried out in Chicago, with 1656 teenagers, it was verified that 20% of the participants had found their most recent sexual partner on the street or public places, mostly at night parties17.

Sexuality during adolescence is vigorous, needing orientation and advice concerning healthy habits to balance the human development while promoting self-care and use of condoms in the right way.

Still taking leisure as item of discussion, it was attempted herein to relate it with violence. Urban violence has become constant in the Brazilian citizen daily life, generating a great number of victims, among them, teenagers whose physical and emotional sequels constitute a public health care problem18.

Our leisure options, now, are dominated by crime. If you go to a park, you're mugged, there might be eve gun firing. You can't go to parties because there's fighting, drugs. In the future it might not be even possible to simply stay home. (E1)

If you go to a pizza place, there's a risk of getting mugged. They arrive, announce the crime... and they might even kill everyone at the tables. (E5)

Violence, according to these youngsters' insight is something real and related with leisure practices, because it outlines that there's danger of being mugged or suffering a physical assault anywhere. It deprives the teenager of performing certain activities and also places him/her in physical and emotional vulnerability.

[...]a guy approached me touching my shoulder like he was my friend and stole my cell phone, I couldn't do anything. (E 2)

I was mugged on the first day of classes at the school gate. I almost gave up coming to school. (E4)

These last two testimonials show the reality of a big urban center, where criminality takes large proportions which inhibit free activities, since there's a risk of being mugged or suffering physical assault. Their perception of leisure is limited, due to the lack of opportunities as well as to violence risk.

Debates about work

On the second period of the seminar, the debates focused on work. Teenagers between 10 to 13 years old are not allowed to work and those between 14 and 15 years old are allowed to work as an apprentice19.

Motivated by the video, the teenagers stated that they work to be financially independent and for necessity. In a discussion about teenagers choosing a job, most of them stated that they occupy a role which was not their first choice.

[...] we want something and our mother can't buy it, then we think about it and try to find a job. I've been working for 5 years, I convinced myself of it, after I had my child, and I started thinking like this... I started working in an open air market, I earn R$320 a month, because I have to, if it was up to me I'd stay home watching TV. It's been two weeks since I started working in an underwear factory, I'm a seamstress and I make R$555 a month. (E5)

It is noted that the motivation to make money becomes more important than the choice for leisure activities. In a study carried out in the countryside of São Paulo with teenagers, it was also observed that they are working to get a basic income for survival, as well as to obtain material assets of their interest20.

In the last reported condition, it's noted that the teenager started to work by the age of 10, in a risky situation on the streets, as a vendor and without legal support, still having an informal job with no benefits and without speculating future security.

When asked about their professions, all of them claimed they feel forced to find a job due to the situation they are in. Within the group, there were teenagers who started working or changed their jobs after the interview, showing a lack of stability in their jobs.

In the face of what was exposed, a question emerged: What do you want to be in a year? The answer was:

They say teenagers always want to change jobs... I have four: tourism, telemarketing, office assistant and cooking. I've done two of those. But now I have to take a risk and work with something I wasn't considering, a vendor... I have to first have this kind of job before following my dream. (E1)

Educational activities must be provocative to the teenager because the reflection about their reality favors changes and rethinking of their behavior. Effectively, it's important to challenge the teenagers living in vulnerable contexts to think about their future21.

We are not necessarily working to take the money and call it ours, to have our independence. They have five children, only one of them works... I'll help my parents, provide for my house, but I won't forget my dream. I'll save some money to use on my dream in the future. (E3)

Teenagers have dreams but also have immediate needs. Some teenagers deprive themselves from their dreams because they often, prematurely, create a family or end up involved with drugs and criminality, believing that such path will make it easier to achieve what they want. This is however, a reflection of social differences in the suburbs. Most of the people living in the suburbs suffer the implications of the social matter of work, social reproduction, social differences and poverty22.

In the discussion, their perception in relation to exploitation also emerged because, often, they work in an informal way, without legal support, motivated by financial needs; they stay that way, even though they realize it demands much effort.

I've already thought about spending a week at home [...] my boss would get to my house and take me to work, he wants me to work and make him rich, as a slave; the seamstresses barely have time to have lunch, only 40 minutes to go home and eat something really fast. [...] money is just temporary, when I get money it's R$10 in my pocket. (E5)

Adolescent work is seen as a cheap workforce, without labor commitments, being perceived as an excellent option for the employer. In the context where teenagers live, many times, they see themselves obliged to work. They mention the need to help with the expenses at home and the desire to buy assets of their interest.

Teenagers believe that the freedom of having money to pay for their and their families' expenses leads them to have a different feeling, through which they start to feel more useful. There's also the perception that the teenager must conciliate the double shift of working and studying3.

Another problematizing video showed child labor expressing the exploitation and illegality of such act. This statement emerged: In my opinion, if the child is working and studying, it's not a crime. In their context, it's not unusual to see a 10 years old child working to help their families. A study with participants between 6 to 16 years old corroborate with the comments from the participants of this study, which depict that premature work doesn't harm the efficiency at school20. This study didn't asses if there is or there's not harm, it only registered the insight of the teenagers regarding the issues debated.

The next video depicted sexual abuse through reports commonly showed by the media, since sexual exploitation has been increasing around the world 23. In Brazil, there's focus on the social and economic marginalization situation, however, it doesn't justify the multi-faceted concept of such reality. Thus, a discussion concerning prostitution was started:

Near my house, there are girls who work as prostitutes, one is 15 years old and the other one is older. The older one started by the influence of a friend, both didn't have money. [...] The one who's 15 was molested by her uncle and she was 13. This fact remained in her head, I think she enjoyed it, then she became a prostitute. (E8)

This teenager's speech depicts aspects of prostitution already depicted in studies, as an easy way to get money and make a living. In a research carried out with teenage prostitutes, it was verified that within the family circle there's not only physical and sexual violence but also psychological violence, creating an improper development24. In a study with teenage prostitutes in Israel, it was also verified previous sexual abuse and commercial sex victimization25.

There's a girl near my house living like that, she said that if she hadn't done that, she doubts she would still be alive. Nowadays she has her own house, kids, she even got a husband, who doesn't live with her, but provides for her [...]. (E10)

I have a friend who used to live in the slums, nowadays she lives in Italy. There was a client who really liked her and asked her if she wanted to leave the country with him. Today she's a lady. Nobody could say she was a prostitute, she looks more like a TV star. (E7)

There was also the perception of prostitution as an opportunity, with the possibility of finding a husband able to provide a comfortable life. In a study with teenage prostitutes, it was observed that prostitution is not seen as a profession, having more of a temporary activity character, because there is dissatisfaction and a desire to change life24.

Prostitution was also exemplified by a teenager from the groups as an unexceptional situation, said teenager had friends who worked with prostitution with Brazilians and foreigners. They also mentioned the prostitution as a mean to feed an addiction for illegal drugs.

I said it last week: aren't you ashamed of yourself? Having sex with a guy for some powder?! Then she answered: we snort it at the same time..." (E5)

The consumption of legal and illegal drugs by prostitutes happens daily, being a risk factor for contamination by the Human Immunodeficiency and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome Virus26. It's important to make the teenagers conscious about the repercussions of prostitution because it implies trauma in different spheres of the social, psychological and physical being. Thus, health care professional must be conscious about their roles as educators, responsible for the changing of reality, aiming to overcome vulnerabilities27.

Before evaluating the learned content, there was a thought process regarding adolescent work which must not put his/her life in risk, but to preserve his/her psychophysical integrity. The education issue, such as citizenship rights, was also discussed. Nursing can lead them to reflection, offering support to promote good health and development of personal skills. It's necessary to understand the construction of educational practices with teenagers in an active way, which needs relived and redimensioned insights to make new educational practices in health possible, considering the apprehension of the subject28.



It was concluded that the use of the Care Template favored discussion and reflection among teenagers about work, leisure and the importance of studying. Nursing, in its educational actions, must provide the teenager with a reflection about different experiences, in order to lead them to critical thinking and positive positioning before the risks and vulnerabilities of growing up during adolescence and to be changing agents in their lives.

The perceptions of leisure and work of teenagers made it possible to identify their reality and to debate according to their beliefs and languages, which reflect their experiences. It was noted that there are leisure activities that make them vulnerable to alcohol, drugs, violence and prostitution. As for work, it was noted by them as a practice that doesn't interfere with school, especially because most of them need to work to help their families to make a living, therefore being an immediate necessity.

As a limitation of the study, a restrict number of students was part of the research and it took place at only one school, indicating the need to investigate a representative sample of the universe. To deepen the phenomenon investigation, it is proposed a comparative study with teenagers from different socioeconomic segments.



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