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An After-School Haven Needed

Parents typically aren't home in the afternoons, so why shouldn't schools stay open?

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As a child growing up in Nebraska and Minnesota, I remember coming home from school each day around 3:30 in the afternoon. My mother - a full-time mom - greeted me with a hug and some cookies. After we chatted, I practiced the piano until dinner.

Today, for most kids, things are very different. Schools - staying open later - could substitute for the parents that can't be there after school.

In 1992, 66 percent of all families with children under 18 had mothers in the labor force, a study of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning showed.

Twenty-two million adolescents are left unsupervised during the hours of 3 and 6 p.m, according to the Andrews University Institute for Prevention of Addictions.

How are America's kids spending those unsupervised hours?

Many of them are glued to Ricki Lake and Jenny Jones. On average, according to the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College, American children spend 40 hours a week watching television and playing video games - more hours than they spend in school. Children in low-income households are estimated to spend 50 percent more time watching television than their more affluent peers. Children who watch more television than average are more likely to be obese, read less, and play less; they are also more aggressive, the Wellesley research shows.

Some latchkey adolescents spend unsupervised afternoons having sex. Most adolescent girls who become pregnant do so between 3 and 6 pm, in their own home, the Andrews University research shows.

Latchkey children are especially likely to experiment with alcohol and other drugs. A Task Force on Youth Development and Community Programs study of approximately 5,000 eighth-graders found that students who had no supervision for 11 or more hours a week were at twice the risk of substance abuse as their peers.

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