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Home alone: latchkey kids on good behavior.

"Latchkey" children, who fend for themselves after school until their parents return from work, do about as well socially and emotionally as youngsters receiving adult supervision following classes, according to two new studies.

The findings, described in the July DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, contrast with recent warnings by some researchers that latchkey children face an increased risk of a wide array of emotional problems. However, neither of the new studies showed that children left on their own their classmates. Latchkey children represent about 7 percent of all U.S. youngsters between the ages of 5 and 13.

"[Out study] suggests that the type of after-school care per se is less important than the quality of children's experiences with their families," conclude Deborah L. Vandell of the University of Wisconsin Madison and Janaki Ramanan of the University of Texas at Dallas.

The decision to leave a child unattended after school schould depend on the parent's ability to monitor the child's activities during that time and to provide consistent support and discipline, maintain Nancy L. Galambos and Jennifer L. Maggs of the University of Victoria in British Columbia. Vandell and Ramanan studied 199 girls and 191 boys in third, fourth or fifth grade during 1986. The group consisted of black, white and Hispanic youngsters, mainly in large cities. Nearly half came from poor household, and slightly more than half lived with the mother only.

Mothers reported more hyperactivity and misbehavior among the 28 latchkey children than among youngsters returning to a parent or another adult after school. However, when the psychologists statistically controlled for family emotional support, this discrepancy disappeared in families living above the poverty line. Below the poverty line, the behavior difference remained significant despite the level of family emotional support, which was measured with questionnaires completed by the mothers and home observations by the researchers. All behavioral differences disappeared when the team controlled for both income and emotional support.

The study also showed that children who returned home to single mothers after school experienced more anxiety, misbehavior and conflicts with other children than did youngsters receiving after-school supervision from other adults. Vandell and Ramanan suggest that some single mothers endure considerable stress and may have few psychological resources to offer a child after school. These families may benefit the most from after-school child care, they maintain.

The Canadian psychologists focused on sixth graders who received afterschool care from adults or took care of themselves at home, at a friend's house or by "hanging out" with friends. In 1988, Galambos and Maggs administered extensive questionnaires to 112 suburban children and their parents. Six months later, follow-up questionnaires reached 100 of the original participants, all of whom lived with both parents.

Youngsters under adult supervision and those returning to an empty home after school showed no differences in involvement with peers, problem behaviors, self-control and self-confidence. But problems emerged among children left on their own outside the home. In particular, the researchers note, girls who spent unsupervised time "hanging out" reported more problem behavior--such as smoking, drinking alcohol and stealing--and more contact with trouble-prone peers than did the other girls and the overall sample of boys. But self-care outside the home may not cause the behavior problems uncovered in the study, say Galambos and Maggs, who note that children already inclined to rebel or take risks may seek out like-minded peers after school.
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Title Annotation:children not supervised after school by adults do as well socially and emotionally as those who are
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 27, 1991
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