When children reach the ages of 9-13, working parents feel more comfortable with leaving them alone after school. But how healthy is self-care for children at this age?
A recent study in the Journal of Early Adolescence finds that more self-care in the middle school years is significantly associated with lower academic performance and school behavior problems. If the child participated in out-of-school activities, there was less impact on grades, report the researchers, who analyzed the Parent and Youth Interview portions of the 1999 National Household Education Survey. Parental responses for 5,869 adolescents were analyzed for this study.
“Previous studies of self-care among young adolescents have focused on social emotional and behavioral outcomes such as depression, substance abuse, and delinquency rather than on academic outcomes,” the researchers write. “Based on the findings from this study, the concerns expressed by educators appear warranted even for students who engage in relatively little self-care.”
Adolescents may not spend their unsupervised time doing homework or may engage in other activities that distract them from schoolwork, the researchers said. Based on this study, adolescents in self-care benefit from their involvement in after-school activities.
The amount of self care was not related to the family’s income. The researchers considered 3 parenting variables in the study (“family discusses decisions with child,” “family listens to child’s side of an argument,” “family lets child have a say in rules.”) Of these 3 variables, the extent to which a family listens to a child’s side of an argument (hardly, ever, sometimes, or often) was significantly associated with the amount of child self-care, e.g. children in more self care were in families that are less likely to listen to their side of an argument.
Parents were more likely to report that their child in self-care had behavioral problems at school if they reported that they their child had a say in the rules. Hispanic students were less likely to be in self-care than white students and African-American students.
It is important to investigate how young adolescents perceive after-school arrangements, the researchers conclude. Many resist after-school programs, especially those that include younger children. Educators, researchers and parents need to ascertain which activities young adolescents perceive as developmentally appropriate.
“Academic and Behavioral Characteristics of Young Adolescents in Self-Care,” by Lee Shumow et al., Journal of Early Adolescence, Volume 29, Number 2, April 2009, pp. 233-257.