- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

When the last bell rings every school day, 69 percent of America’s teens say they are ready to “come home, take it easy, do homework and spend time with friends.”

However, thanks to parental and other adult influences, nearly 80 percent of these same teens say they are regularly doing worthwhile extra activities involving sports, drama, music, volunteering, religious studies or the Scouts.

These findings should be reassuring to adults who worry that most teens are likely to just “hang out aimlessly or sit in front of a computer screen,” said M. Christine DeVita, president of the Wallace Foundation, which commissioned the study released today by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan research group.

More than half of teens — 57 percent — say they participate in activities nearly every day. And although 89 percent of teens say they sometimes “need to be pushed by my parents to do things that are good for me,” virtually the same high percentages say their extracurricular activities are fun, educational and a good place to make friends.

The message to parents is that most children “are thriving” because of extra activities, and it’s really worth the time — “and maybe a little nagging” — to get children involved, said Ruth Wooden, president of Public Agenda.

The federal government spends $1 billion on extra activities, and an ongoing study by the Bush administration is looking at whether students get academic benefits from these programs.

The Public Agenda study shows that most parents have other benefits in mind, wanting extra activities to be meaningful, challenging and character building, rather than primarily academic, Ms. DeVita said.

When asked what they wanted from these programs, “almost half of parents cited ‘teaching the value of hard work and commitment,’” she said, adding that gathering opinions from parents and teens, rather than policy advocates, was one of the major reasons the Wallace Foundation, established by Reader’s Digest founders DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace, commissioned the study.

The study is based on interviews with 609 middle- and high-school students and 1,003 parents of school-age children.

It also revealed that, despite the flurry of extracurricular and weekend activities, teen boredom remains alive and well.

For instance, 28 percent of teens said they are home alone after school at least three days a week, and 13 percent say they are home alone every school day.

More than 50 percent of teens agree that “there’s not much for kids my age to do other than go to school or just hang out.” More than 70 percent say a lack of motivation is to blame for some children not joining activities; however, expensive program costs, travel time and lack of activities geared toward a particular age group also are cited as problems.

Minority and low-income families are the least happy with their children’s choices after school and are most likely to want their children in activities that challenge them academically. These parents also worry the most about their children “hanging out with the wrong crowd.”

Most parents, regardless of race or income, say they want more activities during the summer for their children.

The survey also found the following:

• Despite national concerns about “overscheduled” children, 75 percent of students say their day-to-day schedule during the school year is “just about right” and not too hectic.

• Sports activities are the most popular, followed by clubs; volunteer work; art, music or dance programs; and religious or academic activities. One-third of students said they would like homework programs after school.

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