By Ben Trentelman, Youth Services Afterschool Program Coordinator
There are a number of different parenting styles today, as there have always been, but now it seems more and more important to classify which parenting category you fit into. Are you a “helicopter parent”, a “free-range parent”, “pro or anti-vaccination”, or just a parent? These categories all encompass different ideals, and the bottom line should be that we choose to define ourselves as parents because we care about our children and that we want the very best for them. So what are we to do? Only allow our kids to leave the house when supervised? Watch our kids every moment of the day? Those might be effective methods for some, but there are several challenges that get in the way of living up to our idea of what the perfect parent may look like. We all allow our kids to watch a little more television than we would like, and those fast food meals might be a little more frequent than we care for because the reality is that parents are busy, and in order to make ends meet, not all parents have the flexibility to be there every moment of every day. Child care can be expensive and isn’t always accessible for every family.
The hardest time of day to make sure your kids are in good hands especially right after school and staying out of trouble while parents are still working and the kids have a few hours of free time. According to an article by the Afterschool Alliance, “reports that the incidence of violence committed by youth peaks in the hours immediately following the end of the school day, with close to 1 in 5 juvenile violent crimes taking place in the hours between 3 and 7 PM.”
As well as information from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System which states that in 2011: “of the more that 25 million youth ages 12 – 17, more than 1 in 10 smoked a cigarette, more than 1 in 4 drank alcohol and approximately 1 in 5 used and illicit drug in the past year.”
This can be scary information to absorb and as a parent it can be easy to feel like you don’t know how to best protect your children and help them make the best choices for themselves. Here are a few tips to help you insure that your kids are safe and sound during the afterschool hours that you are stuck at work:
I run an afterschool program for Salt Lake County, so you can expect my first suggestion to be that you need to find a quality afterschool program. Several of these programs exist in many forms and most are very affordable if they aren’t free of charge and they operate when you need them the most, right after school.
The state of Utah has a great program in place to help parents find the best afterschool and childcare options for kids, Care about Childcare, which offers great tools and information.
You can also check with your child’s school to see if they offer an afterschool program, (several programs exist in schools in Salt Lake City, Granite, Jordan, and Canyons school districts, just to name a few).
These programs offer a wide range of activities and programs for all youth of all abilities that work to emphasize academic performance, drug abuse prevention, healthy lifestyles and physical activities, positive social interactions, STEM, the arts, and so much more.
“Students participating in quality afterschool programs are less likely to take part in criminal activities and risky behaviors.”
“A number of evaluations have found that students participating in afterschool programs see improvements in their ability to interact with others. “
“Students participating in quality afterschool programs saw significant increases in the self-perception, self-confidence and self-esteem.”
Clear and Consistent Boundaries and Expectations:
Regardless of if your child attends afterschool programs; you need to have very clear boundaries and expectations in place for what your child does afterschool.
• Have a system in place for who your kids can hang out with afterschool.
• Does a friend’s parent need to be home and do you know them?
• Have kids finish homework before they do something else.
• Do you know which friends your kids are choosing to hang out with?
• Are they allowed to have friends over when you aren’t home?
• Mandatory check-in.
• Expect a call from your kids when they get home afterschool to let you know they are there and what their plans might be.
• Agree on a consistent time and understanding that they always check in.
• Be very clear about those touchy subjects:
• Talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol use and premature sex. Don’t beat around the bush and make sure that you are clear about your rules. Don’t just talk about the rules, but talk about why they are important and what can happen if they are abusing substances or engaging in unhealthy relationships.
Embrace your Community:
• We’ve all heard that it takes a village, right? So get to know your neighbors. They are much more likely to let you know if they see anything funny going on with your kids if they have a positive relationship with you.
• Organize a walking group to and from school.
• Get to know the teachers in your child’s school and the staff in their afterschool program.
• Set up a play-day rotation for your child’s group of friends to hang out at a different parent’s house throughout the week.
Have fun with your family:
• Your kids are much more likely to be on board with all of this if you are taking the time when you are at home to enjoy quality time with them. Be sincere in your interactions, listen, and get to know your kids!