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Today's life sure is busy -- for the children

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

WASHINGTON -- If the fast pace of life makes you yearn for the lazy days of childhood, don't expect much sympathy from the youngsters.

About 80 percent of middle and high school students take part in organized activities after school and on weekends, and most of these young people have something scheduled nearly every day, a new study finds.

That's just fine by them. Three out of four students say their day-to-day schedule during the school year is just about right, not too hectic.

What's more, children don't mind a good nudge into that piano class or soccer lesson, according to the study by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan opinion research group.

Almost nine in 10 students agree they need to be pushed by parents into things that are good for them, even if they might complain.

The message to parents is "Most kids are thriving from out-of-school activities, and it's really worth your time -- and maybe a little nagging -- to get kids involved," said Ruth Wooden, president of Public Agenda.

Sports are the most popular activities, followed by anything in the category of art, music or dance, and then academics, the study found.

Cerenity Miller's after-school routine includes four days a week at Adventure Central, a 4-H program in Dayton, Ohio. The 12-year-old's time is packed with research in the computer lab, kickball and arts and crafts.

Untraditional routine

Otherwise, Cerenity said she could enroll in aftercare at her school, "but that wouldn't be as much fun. I wouldn't really have any opportunities except to sit there and do my homework and wait for my dad to pick me up."

Congress spends $1 billion on after-school programs, and an ongoing study by the Bush administration has questioned whether students are getting academic benefits. But many parents have other objectives in mind.

Beyond safety, what parents want in after-school activities is for children to develop interests and hobbies and stay out of trouble, the study found.

With two parents often working, he said, after-school time has become as much a part of the traditional routine as families meeting up at day's end for dinner.

Poor and minority parents are much more likely to want an academic focus in their kids' activities, the study found. Yet they have many more problems finding programs that are affordable, available and high quality.

The findings come from two random phone surveys in June, one with 609 middle and high school students, one with 1,003 parents of children in kindergarten to grade 12. The margin of sampling error was 4 percentage points for the children and three points for the parents.

The surveys revealed at least one communication gap between parents and their children.

More than four out of five parents of middle and high school students said their child does not hang out at the mall. But more than half of students that age said yes, they do. Parents wouldn't like that, as most of them view malls as potential places for "bad things to happen."

Among other findings:

More than six in 10 students said when the school day is done, the last thing they want to do is more academics. But a majority said they would like summer programs that help prepare them for the next grade.

More than seven in 10 students said that when children don't take part in organized activities after school or on weekends, it's because they lack motivation, not choices.

More than eight in 10 students say youths who take part in organized activities are better off than those who have a lot of time to themselves after school.

ON THE NET

* Public Agenda: www.public agenda.org


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