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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Harvard Family Research Project discusses the connection between parents' behavior and adolescents' participation in out-of-school time activities.

Research shows that participation in out-of-school time (OST) activities has academic, social, and emotional benefits for youth. However, some youth are less likely than their peers to participate—particularly adolescent, disadvantaged, and ethnic minority youth. Through a grant from the W. T. Grant Foundation, Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) is investigating the different factors—demographic characteristics, neighborhoods, schools, and families—that may predict whether and how much youth participate in OST activities. As part of this investigation, we recently looked at the role of families.

To learn about the link between families and adolescent OST participation, we analyzed data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics–Child Supplement (PSID–CDS). The PSID–CDS is a nationally representative study of children, with an oversampling of poor, African American, and Latino families. We studied data from Wave II of the study, which included 1,350 adolescents ages 10 to 19. The data, collected between fall 2003 and spring 2004, came from in-home interviews with families, a parent questionnaire, an adolescent questionnaire, and an achievement test.

Specifically, we were interested in whether five different parenting behaviors, which are theoretically important to adolescent development, were associated with OST participation. These five behaviors were:

  1. Being emotionally supportive of adolescent children
  2. Providing cognitive stimulation (e.g., keeping books in the home, reading together)
  3. Setting rules about the adolescent's behavior
  4. Being involved in the adolescent's school
  5. Being involved in the community

We looked at whether each behavior, as well as different combinations of the five behaviors, were related to whether and how often adolescents participated in any the following four types of organized OST activities: school activities such as clubs or student government, community activities such as scouts or hobby clubs, school athletic or sports teams, and volunteer service activities or service clubs.

To answer this question, we used a person-centered analytic approach, which identified patterns of parenting behaviors in the data and then examined whether those patterns were related to OST participation. We used this type of analysis because parenting behaviors do not occur in isolation from each other and because we wanted to know how combinations of parenting behaviors impact OST participation. The person-centered analyses found five distinct combinations of parenting behaviors in the data. For example, one group of parents had particularly high levels of school involvement, while another group was low on all the parenting behaviors. Several take-home messages emerged from the analyses.

Adolescents who spent the most time in activities had parents who reported being highly involved in their schools. However, adolescents whose parents were not highly involved in school but provided cognitive stimulation in other ways (e.g., reading together, keeping musical instruments in the home, discussing television) also reported moderate to high rates of participation. This suggests that although there may be a particularly strong link between parental involvement in the school and OST participation, supporting children's learning outside of the school also predicts participation.

On the other end of the participation spectrum, the lowest rates of participation were evident among two groups of adolescents: those whose parents were lower than average on all five parenting behaviors and those whose parents set a high number of rules but were low on the other behaviors. In other words, those adolescents whose parents did not engage in supportive parenting behaviors, or who set a lot of rules in the absence of other warm and supportive behaviors, were less likely to participate. Moreover, these may be the same youth who could benefit most from the resources and stimulation that OST activities offer.

Our findings have direct, applied implications for both families and OST activity staff. The strong, positive relationship between parental involvement in school and OST participation may imply that school involvement leads to higher participation; alternatively, it can also imply the reverse—that OST participation encourages parents to be involved in schools. The direction of this relationship is not clear from the data, but either way, our findings suggest that activity leaders may want to forge connections with both schools and parents, in order to facilitate higher youth participation rates as well as other potential outcomes, such as parental engagement and involvement in their adolescents' lives.

Our findings also suggest that activity leaders should consider focusing their recruitment efforts on youth whose families do not provide high levels of stimulation, support, and involvement, because such youth are least likely to participate and thereby experience the benefits of participation in OST activities. Overall, these findings contribute to increasing calls for activity leaders to involve parents in OST programs, for recruitment and retention, and for building high quality programming.1

Click here for more information about these findings, and about our participation study in general.

1 Kakli, Z., Kreider, H., Little, P., Buck, T., & Coffey, M. (2006). Focus on families! How to build and support family-centered practices in after school. Boston and Cambridge, MA: United Way of Massachusetts Bay, Harvard Family Research Project, and BOSTnet.

Suzanne Bouffard, Research Analyst, HFRP

Sandra Simpkins-Chaput
HFRP Consultant and Assistant Professor
Arizona State University
School of Social and Family Dynamics
Box 873701
Tempe, AZ 85287
Tel: 480-727-8453

Carrie-Anne DeDeo, Publications Editor, HFRP

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