2017-11-09 / Viewpoint

Protecting our youth from the 'Danger Zone'


Elizabeth S. Murphy Elizabeth S. Murphy If I asked you what time of day school age youth are most likely to engage in risky behavior, what would you say? Would you be surprised if I told you it's earlier than you might think?

There’s a reason why the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. are often considered the “danger zone” by law enforcement and educational professionals. It’s a time when many children and teens are home from school, but their parents or guardians are still at work. In fact, in Michigan, about 23 percent of youth and teens are responsible for themselves in the hours immediately following the school day.

That lack of supervision translates into the peak time for kids to become victims of crimes, and/or experiment with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex.

Does this mean that all youth are going to get into trouble during those hours? Not at all. But it does show that a little structure can go a long way in keeping young people on the right track.

One way to provide said structure is through engaging programming – which is why afterschool programs are so valuable to families and communities. Unfortunately, these programs aren’t always accessible. According to the Afterschool Alliance, only 13 percent of children participate in an afterschool program in Michigan, although 44 percent would enroll if one were available to them.

At the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce, we aim to make a positive difference in the lives of Genesee County's citizens—and our most important citizens are the children of this community. What we help them become today, they will bring to the community tomorrow.

With that in mind, the Flint & Genesee Chamber offers an afterschool and summer enrichment program that serves about 2,000 students each year. YouthQuest—which is made possible with generous support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and 21st Century Community Learning Centers — encourages the exploration of new interests in the areas of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), and promotes academic achievement, physical fitness, youth leadership and volunteerism.

Our goal is to help these students excel at home, at school and beyond. And research shows that programs like YouthQuest do just that. Students who regularly attend high-quality afterschool programs often report improved school attendance, academic performance and critical thinking skills.

They also have a wider breadth of experiences. Just last month, YouthQuest students had the opportunity to participate in violin lessons, visit local apple orchards and solve CSI-inspired mysteries.

You might notice that while educational, all of these activities have an experiential element to them. Because of this, families don't need to worry about what their students are up to between the hours of 3 to 6 p.m. They're too busy exploring and having fun to get involved in anything else.

For more information about YouthQuest, visit yquest.org.

Elizabeth S. Murphy is Chief Operating Officer at the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce.

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