Research of December 2005-January 2006

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Analysis of Predictors of Participation in Out-of-School Time Activities

Harvard Family Research Project/Harvard University
Available at

Ask teens why they’re not doing something you think they should be, and they’ve got a million excuses.

But when it comes to their lack of participation in out-of-school-time (OST) programs, the list is fairly short, according to this ongoing study: lack of transportation; the competing responsibilities of jobs, chores and sibling care; a desire to hang out with friends; boredom or disinterest in OST activities; and feeling physically and emotionally unsafe while in transit to, or while at, OST programs.

In an effort to help practitioners overcome such obstacles and deliver the well-documented benefits of OST programs to more youth, researchers with the Harvard Family Research Project’s (HFRP’s) ongoing Study of Predictors of Participation in Out-of-School Time Activities are working to uncover the family, child and neighborhood factors that predict OST participation levels. The study began in November 2004, funded by a two-year grant from the William T. Grant Foundation.

Among the preliminary findings, released this fall:

• Participation in OST programs is lower than expected, averaging one to 2.5 days per week.
• Family income is the most consistent predictor of youth getting in the door, and of the intensity and breadth of their participation. The higher the income, the more likely they will join and participate.
• Ethnicity and gender may affect participation. For example, female African-American participants said their peers don’t participate because of negative opinions of youth centers; African-American males cited the quality of program staff as a factor; and Latino girls said their peers’ fathers didn’t want them around boys.
“Our findings provide further evidence that OST activity leaders need to ramp up their efforts to attract and sustain disadvantaged youth, and to pay particular attention to specific ethnic groups,” Priscilla Little, associate director of HFRP, wrote via e-mail.

At an American Youth Policy Forum briefing in October, Little and co-investigator Sherri Lauver, an assistant professor at the University of Rochester, presented 10 strategies to improve the recruitment and retention of adolescents in OST activities:

• Help youth understand the value of participation, particularly the ways it prepares them for success in college or the workplace.
• Show families the opportunities associated with participation, such as homework help, exposure to arts and health benefits of physical activity.
• Reach out to youth and their parents with phone calls and visits to homes and schools.
• Recruit in peer circles. Ask participants to bring friends.
• Consider at-risk youth in recruitment efforts. Set aside slots for at-risk youth and hire staff that relate well to them.
• Match program content and schedules to youths’ interests and needs, and be flexible in both.
• Send a clear message that regular attendance is important. Implement an intervention plan for no-shows.
• Balance academic activities with other leisure activities. Complement, rather than replicate, the school day.
• Provide incentives, such as paid apprenticeships, stipends or rewards for regular and long-term participation.
• Provide opportunities for leadership, community service and paid employment.

For a summary of the presentation, go to To receive updates on the Study of

Predictors as they are released, visit

Teen Content Creators and Consumers

Pew Internet & American Life Project
Available at

Looking for a way to bring teens through the doors of your program? This study found that nearly 60 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 who have access to the Internet (“online teens”) regularly enjoy creating content to share on the Web.
Pew estimates that 21 million teens in the United States – 87 percent of all 12- to 17-year-olds – use the Internet at least weekly, with half of those logging on daily.

Among the 1,100 “online teens” surveyed:

• 33 percent said they share their own creations online, such as art, stories, photos or videos.
• 32 percent said they have created or worked on webpages or blogs for others.
• 22 percent reported keeping personal webpages.
• 19 percent said they maintain a personal blog, and 38 percent read the blogs of others.

Youth programs trying to attract teens might want to consider teaching online content development, such as audio/video editing or keeping blogs, said study co-author Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist for the Pew Internet & American Life Project.
Programs that really want to “take advantage of what content has to offer in terms of exciting young people” may also want to consider investing in high-speed broadband access, which “makes a big difference in how teens are able to use the technology,” Lenhart said.

The study also found that teens held somewhat contradictory views about downloading and sharing copyrighted materials. Half of the teens surveyed said they download music files, and nearly one-third said they download video. Three-quarters of downloaders said downloading and file-sharing is easy and that it is “unrealistic to expect people not to do it,” Lenhart said.
She said youth get mixed messages about downloading. “They hear from the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] that this is wrong, it’s illegal,” she said. “And yet there is a CD burner in their computer at home, and you can go to your local office supply store and buy 100 blank CDs for $15. Their sense is that, ‘Well, if it was really illegal, people would make it hard.’ ”
One way to correct that message is help teens get creative online. In the survey, more than half of teens who keep blogs said they care about copyright protections, versus only 37 percent of teens who don’t keep blogs.

“Creating content of your own puts you in the shoes of your favorite artist,” Lenhart said. “You realize, ‘Oh, there actually are people behind these products that I’m consuming!’ And I think that does certainly help raise awareness.”

Contact: Pew Internet & American Life Project, (202) 419-4500.