They’re busy, but happy about it

A new study from Public Agenda, sponsored by the Wallace Foundation, explores the motivations and realities of after-school programming for kids (there’s a news article about it here, and the full report is available here). The study surveyed 609 middle and high-school students and 1,003 parents to discover what they were up to after school, how they chose the options they chose, and why they did anything, at all.

Among the findings:

  • Well over half the students surveyed (57%) say they participate in some kind of out-of-school activity or program every day or almost every day, and another 37% say they do so a couple of days a week. Almost 8 in 10 (79%) say they do things both on school days and on weekends.
  • Sports were the most popular of after-school activities (66%), followed by school clubs or school activities (62%), but lessons in music, dance, and art came out strong as well (52%).
  • The overwhelming majority of students (85%) say kids who participate in organized activities such as a team or a club after school are ‘better off’ than those who have a lot of time to themselves after school.
  • Minority and low-income households had less access to appropriate activities.

Motivation to participate in after-school activities ranged from nudging to nurturing, according to the report:

  • Approximately 9 in 10 students (89%) agree with the statement, ‘Even though I might complain about it, sometimes I need to be pushed by my parents to do things that are good for me’ — with 62% saying they agree strongly.
  • Asked to choose among the following four options, only 15% of parents say the best reason is to improve how well kids do in school; 41% say it’s to develop interests and hobbies; 27% to keep kids busy and out of trouble; 16% to have fun.

Arts organizations in many cities are major purveyors of after-school options…from private lessons, to theater classes, to craft and visual art experiences. And it’s an area with growth potential, as more and more communities — and the federal government — realize the importance of engaging young people toward more positive activities in their free time.

As you frame your programs and promotions, however, remember that parents don’t always know what they’re talking about. The study also found a few disconnects between what parents believed, and what children actually did:

….most parents say their own kids don’t do much hanging out at the mall; yet more than half of kids say they do. And while some parents count on cell phones to know where their kids are, uncomfortably high numbers of youngsters admit they’ve told their parents they were in one place when they were really in another and that they don’t always answer their cell when they know it’s their parents calling.

I’m shocked, I tell you. Shocked. Even though this was true long before the cell phone, and in fact I did it myself. Don’t tell mom.