If job responsibilities and longer work hours keep parents from being home with their children immediately after school, they can still monitor their kids' activities during this critical time.
Seven and a half million children in the United States between ages 5 and 14 are latchkey kids, according to the National Institute on Out-of-School-Time. Research confirms that kids are less likely to get into trouble when a responsible adult is watching them. In a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found that eighth graders who are unsupervised more than 10 hours a week are about 10 percent more likely to try marijuana, and twice as likely to smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, as eighth-graders who are not unsupervised during the week.
For parents who can't be home with their kids after school, Dr. Phillippe Cunningham, a research scientist at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Medical University of South Carolina, suggests taking the following actions:
* Make every effort to ensure that your child is spending time in constructive, adult-supervised activities such as: Sports, jobs, clubs, daycare, after-school programs, and religious youth groups. If your kids have to be at home, make sure they are working on homework or doing chores-not hanging out with friends.
* At all times, know where your children are, who they are spending time with, and how you can reach them.
* Have your kids check in with you at regular intervals. Give them change, a phone card, or a beeper with clear rules about using it (e.g., "When I beep you, I expect a call back within 5 minutes.")
* Randomly check that your kids are where they say they are.
* Take advantage of the time that you and your child do spend together. Even if you don't get home from work until fairly late at night, try to spend the rest of the evening in meaningful conversation with your child.
* Know what your kids are watching on television and searching for on the computer.
* Establish clear rules about drug use. Tell your kids you expect them not to use drugs-ever.Dr. Cunningham adds, "the more parents and communities do to ensure that children and adolescents are involved in worthwhile activities, the better we can prevent most kinds of youth behavior problems."