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Quality After-School Programs Help Students Feel More Connected, Caring

Elementary school-aged children in high-quality after-school programs were found to be more competent, caring, and respectful toward adults in a new study led by a University of Georgia (UGA) researcher.

With 70% of all juvenile crime being committed between 3 PM and 6 PM, findings suggest improving the quality of after-school programs can have a protective effect on youths.

More than 500 children participated in the study, with data collected from more than 70 after-school programs over a three-year period from 2009 to 2012.

Researchers measured the quality of after-school programs using independent observers. Elementary school children in second through fifth grade reported the amount of respect for adults, levels of competence, feelings of connectedness, and concern for each other.

"We spend so much more time talking about the problems that youth have and so little time relatively talking about what are the positive ways in which they're growing and developing," says lead author Emilie Smith, PhD, the Janette McGarity Barber Distinguished Professor and head of the human development and family science department in UGA's College of Family and Consumer Sciences. "I think if we can foster positive programming for kids between those after-school hours, we're going to have a powerful impact on delinquency."

The study was conducted largely to gain a better understanding of positive youth development, or those factors that drive prosocial behavior among youth, rather than taking a "deficit model" approach that focuses on delinquency.

Participants also represented diverse racial-ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic (urban, suburban, and rural) backgrounds to provide valuable data on the role of cultural values in positive youth development.

Independent observers measured the quality of after-school programs across time, including levels of harshness toward children, appropriate structure of the program, supportive relationships with adults, and levels of youth engagement.

"Interestingly, the settings in which youth most respect adults are those in which adults interact with and engage them more positively," Smith says. "Settings that have support and engagement for youth are those in which youth evidence competence, caring, and connection."

Smith says when adults in the after-school program showed genuine interest in the children, the children in turn demonstrated more respect.

I think it's maybe a little counterintuitive because maybe we think we have to be tough to get respect," Smith says, "but really it's when you show understanding and are really interested in someone else, particularly a young person, and engage them, ask their opinion, ask them to take leadership roles, that they have more respect for you. That was a telling lesson."

The paper, "Positive youth development among diverse racial-ethnic children: Quality afterschool contexts as developmental assets," was published in the July/August issue of Child Development.

Source: University of Georgia