of after-school programs for preteens gives kids an advantage
in conflict with parents, says UC Berkeley researcher
Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs
-- With few or no full-scale after-school programs in place
for children aged 10 to 12, working parents are losing a battle
of wills with their kids who want to be free of adult supervision,
according to research carried out at the Center for Working
Families at the University of California, Berkeley.
families are being "dropped off a cliff" in terms
of after-school care, once their children are out of elementary
school where care programs were routinely in place until the
end of the working day, said Rivka Polatnick, a research sociologist
at the center.
are playing with fire," said Polatnick. "We know that
the period of preteen into early adolescence is a very vulnerable
age and a critical time in development. These children are being
left essentially unsupervised."
research, to be released by the center this month, is based
on interviews with 36 preteens in a Bay Area middle school and
their parents. It is one of a few studies conducted in the United
States to collect in-depth material on how preteens feel and
what choices they are making when they get to middle school.
These case studies add insight to national statistics showing
that more than one third of U.S. children aged 10 to 12 with
working parents are regularly taking care of themselves.
one of the case studies, for example, 11-year-old Reggie thinks
it's against the law for him to stay home alone. His working
parents concocted a story that he must be 13 before he can be
legally left alone, a kind of last-ditch effort to limit the
sudden freedom that came to this middle school child when he
graduated from elementary school.
parents, on the other hand, caved in when the 10-year-old decided
to walk home with a friend to spend the afternoons at the computer,
unsupervised, rather than staying at school running errands
for the teacher.
is a tug of war going on between the kids, who typically want
to exercise their new autonomy, and the parents, who usually
feel their preteens are too young to be on their own regularly
after school," said Polatnick.
the most part, kids are happy to use this situation to their
advantage," she said. "But some will admit that the
lack of care makes them lonely and bored, and others will deliberately
get school detention to have something to do."
are contributing to the problem - often inadvertently - by communicating
mainly with the kids and not with the parents about the limited
after-school activities, mainly sports, that are available,
said Polatnick. She found that children who had their own agenda
about how to spend the time would simply forget to pass on school
notices and parents never knew what, if anything, the school
parent was reduced to going through her daughter's backpack
looking for information on after-school programs, said Polatnick.
or eleven is pretty young to be treated as suddenly grown up,"
said Polatnick. "And the parents are shocked when they
find out that there are few after-school programs in middle
school, nor even any bus transportation to and from the school."
administrators neglect to communicate with parents, either because
they lack the resources for mailings or because the culture
in middle school encourages them to treat the children as decision
makers, said Polatnick. She believes, however, that the major
cause is lack of staff, or even the money for postage.
is a sorry state of affairs when our schools are so underfunded
and understaffed that they can't even mail out notices and must
get parent volunteers to do the mailings," said Polatnick.
school administrators have been told often enough that their
communication to parents is bad. They are aware of that, and
still the problem does not change. I think the cause is inadequate
results draw on 78 in-depth interviews, conducted with Elaine
Bell Kaplan, also a senior researcher at the center, with 36
6th and 7th graders in the Bay Area and 42 of their parents.
Her report touches on common issues for millions of parents
and kids, since national statistics indicate that, at age 12,
some 35 percent of kids with working parents take care of themselves
regularly after school.
35 percent may underestimate the problem," said Polatnick,
"since most parents, particularly mothers, do not want
to admit their 10- to 12-year-olds are staying home alone."
added, however, that the term "home alone" includes
a wide range of situations, from kids who are truly alone to
those who have relatives or friends in the building.
is an area of ambivalence for our culture and our parents,"
she said. "On the one hand, we think it's positive for
kids to learn self-reliance. These are values we celebrate and
promote. Yet we also know our kids as individuals, know their
needs and the kind of care we would like them to have.
parents are very uneasy with this much freedom at the preteen
level. It doesn't feel right. They want better options and many
more after-school resources for these kids."