Mixed Empirical Findings

Numerous studies have been conducted since the 1970s investigating unsupervised children from psychological, sociological, and educational perspectives. The findings have been quite mixed, with some researchers finding clear differences between supervised and self-care children and some failing to do so. Among the former, Ruth C. Reynolds found that un-supervised children were at greater risk than supervised children for negative feeling, insecurity, accidents, abuse, neglect, and fear. Thomas J. Long and Lynette Long found that 30 percent of the un-supervised African-American children in their study reported high levels of fear. Peter Mulhall reported that middle school and junior high school students who were home alone after school two or more days per week were four times more likely to have gotten drunk in the previous month than those who had parental supervision five or more times a week. Merilyn B. Woods reported that low-income urban fifth graders who were unsupervised had more academic and social problems than similar children of higher income who were in after-school supervision. Lynne Steinberg found that fifth to ninth graders who were more removed from adult supervision were more susceptible to peer pressure to commit antisocial acts than were their supervised peers. Lorene C. Quay found that latchkey children revealed more loneliness than did children who went home to their mother. John M. Diamond and his colleagues found that un-supervised boys in the fifth and sixth grades scored lower on achievement tests than supervised boys. Javaid Kaiser found similar results.

Other studies found no differences between self-care and supervised children on a number of variables. Nancy L. Galambos and James Garbarino found that supervised and unsupervised fifth and seventh graders in rural settings did not differ on school adjustment, school orientation, achievement, and levels of fear. Stephen C. Messer and his colleagues reported no differences in personality tests and SAT scores between college students who had previously been in self-care and those who had been in supervised care. J. L. Richardson and colleagues found that stress levels of unsupervised students did not predict substance use. Hyman Rodman, David J. Pratto, and Rosemary S. Nelson found no differences among supervised and unsupervised children on measures of self-esteem, internal or external locus of control, and a behavior rating scale for urban and rural children of racial diversity. Deborah Lowe Vandell and Janaki Ramanan reported that children in the care of single mothers after school had lower scores on Peabody Picture Vocabulary Tests and higher ratings for antisocial behaviors than children in other types of adult after-school supervision.

The type of after-school activities in which children are engaged also plays an important role in their adjustment. Jill K. Posner and Deborah Lowe Vandell found that children involved in coached sports and after-school academic activities were better adjusted in the fifth grade than children who spent their time after school watching television and hanging out.

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