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Latchkey kids risk substance use.

Lathckey kids risk substance use

So-called latchkey children, who routinely care for themselves without adult supervision, run a higher risk of alcohol, marijuana or cigarette use than do children who are supervised after school and in the evening, according to a new scientific report.

Jean L. Richardson of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and her co-workers studied 4,932 middle-class eight-graders attending public schools in the Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas. The children at highest risk of substance use were the 28.6 percent who spent the most unsupervised time after school -- 11 hours or more per week. The researchers found those students twice as likely to use alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana compared with students who had constant adult supervision after school. The group reports its findings in the September PEDIATRICS.

They found that 23 percent of the high-risk, latchkey children reported drinking 11 or more alcoholic drinks during their lifetime, while only 11 percent of children with constant supervision reported drinking that much. Thirteen percent of the high-risk children reported smoking at least a pack of cigarettes during their lifetime, compared with 6 percent of their supervised peers. And 24 percent of the high-risk students said they had tried marijuana at least once, compared with 14 percent of the supervised children. Lifetime measures of substance use are important, Richardson notes, because they tend to flag students who are likely to abuse these substances in the future.

Latchkey kids' heightened risk of substance use persisted even when the researchers controlled for factors that influence drug-taking behavior, such as the amount of stress a child experiences at school or at home. Nonetheless, Richardson says the study leaves many questions unaswered. For example, scientists know peer pressure can spur drug or alcohol experimentation. But Richardson doesn't know whether children left to fend for themselves after school have more substance-using friends or are more easily influenced by peers.

In the future, the scientists hope to learn whether certain parenting styles can reduce the risk faced by latchkey children. Evidence suggests parents who phone home regularly can reduce the chances that their kids will experiment with alcohol and other substances, Richardson says. The researchers plan to find ut whether latchkey children who use alcohol, cigarettes or marijuana do in fact go on to abuse such substances. They also plan to test prevention strategies.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Sep 16, 1989
Words:394
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