For young adolescents growing up in impoverished families and communities, the need for supervised and enriching non-school activities may be particularly acute. In this study, we asked whether the supervision, location, and structure of young adolescents' out-of-school time predicted their engagement in problem behaviors over time, including school misconduct, drug and alcohol use, and serious delinquency. Furthermore, we asked whether such relationships might be worse for adolescents with additional individual, family, or neighborhood risk factors.
We used data on 819 early adolescents (age 10-14) from the Welfare, Children, and Families: A Three City Study, a longitudinal study of the well-being of low-income families and communities in the wake of welfare reform. We categorized adolescents' primary out-of-school care as either at-home care, supervised or not supervised; formal programs, such as after-school programs or sport activities; out-of-home supervised care, such as a relative's house with adult supervision; and out-of-home unsupervised care, typically hanging out in the neighborhood.
Among our primary findings:
Adolescents from more disadvantaged families--those whose mothers were unemployed, or who had low educational levels or family incomes--were more likely to experience primary care arrangements out of their own home and removed from adult supervision.
Out-of-home and unsupervised care arrangements predicted increases in problem behaviors among young adolescents, particularly drug and alcohol use and school misconduct. In contrast, parental monitoring--that is, parents' knowledge and oversight of their adolescents' friends and activities--was particularly protective against problem behaviors.
Increases in problem behaviors over time were strongest for youth in out-of-home and unsupervised settings who also experienced additional risks, such as an early tendency toward problem behavior, little parental monitoring of their activities, or low levels of social cohesion in their neighborhoods (that is, shared norms and community involvement). In other words, consistent monitoring from parents and active engagement by members of the community appear particularly protective for young adolescents in disadvantaged communities who spend significant amounts of non-school time in out-of-home settings.
The results support the need for both parents and communities to build involved, supportive relationships with adolescents and to gain the skills and opportunities necessary to provide consistent oversight of adolescents' activities and friends. Additionally, the results buttress the concern of many advocates and researchers who point to the need for more high-quality structured and productive activities available to early adolescents in low-income urban communities.
Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 75, Issue 3, Out-of-School Care and Problem Behavior Trajectories Among Low-Income Adolescents: Individual, Family, and Neighborhood Characteristics as Added Risks by R.L. Coley, J.E. Morris, and D. Hernandez. Copyright 2004 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.