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What Are Teens Doing After School?

by Linda Lyons

Homework is probably the last thing many teens feel like doing after spending all day in the classroom. However, it's what many typically do when they get home from school. Gallup's most recent Youth Survey* shows 44% of teens say they often do homework in the hours between school and dinnertime.

Vying for second place** among teens' typical after-school activities are playing sports, watching television, and just hanging out, each mentioned by about one in five teens. Playing video games and working on the computer were mentioned by 12% and 11%, respectively.

Gender Differences

Boys and girls differ significantly on two after-school activities: doing homework and playing video games.

Nineteen percent of boys say they typically play video games after school, compared with 4% of girls. A previous Gallup Youth Survey indicated that playing video games was one of boys' favorite ways to spend an evening, while virtually no girls said this (see "How Do Teens Unwind?" in Related Items).

Potentially more serious is the difference between boys and girls with regard to homework. More than half of girls (52%) hit the books right after school, compared with slightly more than a third of boys (36%). A November 2004 U.S. Department of Education report found girls have eliminated many large achievement gaps that existed previously between boys and themselves, and in most cases have surpassed boys academically. Girls score higher than boys on reading achievement tests and are less likely to repeat a grade or drop out of high school. High school senior girls have higher education aspirations and attend college in greater numbers than their male counterparts.

According to the report, with the exception of sports, girls outnumber boys in extracurricular activities, as well. "In 2001, females were more likely than their male peers to participate in music or other performing arts, belong to academic clubs, work on the school newspaper or yearbook, or to participate in the student council or government."

Overall, roughly one in four teens in the Gallup survey say they participate in extracurricular activities, like sports, music practice, drama practice, etc., after school. Edmund Gordon, author of the new book, Supplementary Education: The Hidden Curriculum of High Academic Achievement, would no doubt like to see that number increase. He thinks what kids do outside of school is possibly even more important than what they do in the classroom. Gordon writes in his book that he believes increasing out-of-school educational experiences may be key to closing the achievement gap between poor, minority children and their white and Asian counterparts.

But William J. Doherty and Barbara Z. Carlson would probably approve whole-heartedly of the unscheduled after-school activities many teens report. In their book, Putting Families First, Doherty and Carlson argue that rushing to soccer, hockey, karate, violin, piano, band practice, etc., robs kids of the precious downtime they crave. "Family life today revolves around the children's activities, rather than these activities revolving around the family's schedule," they write. "It wasn't this way before. The cart and the horse have switched positions in the last two decades, with hardly anyone noticing until recently. Families now have schedules previously seen only in presidential campaigns."

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,028 teenagers in the Gallup Poll Panel of households, aged 13 to 17, conducted Jan. 17 to Feb. 6, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls

**Each respondent was allowed to name up to three ways he or she spends this time on a typical day; the percentages represent the total number of respondents who mentioned a given activity and add to more than 100%. 

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