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What Challenges Are Boys Facing, and What Opportunities Exist To Address Those Challenges? Fact Sheet: Constructive Use of Time*

Publication Date
Sep 2, 2008
Nick and Alex became fast friends after sitting next to each other in algebra class on the first day of ninth grade. Since then, they have eaten lunch together every day, chatting about their classes, sports, and their favorite video games. But once the school day ends, the two boys go their separate ways. Nick heads off to practice basketball with his city league team. Nick hangs out with his teammates off the court too, even volunteering at the nursing home where the grandmother of one of his buddies lives. In the meantime, across town, Alex steps off the bus to an empty house. Most of the time, he surfs the Internet or sits on the front stoop and waits for the other neighborhood kids to come home from school. Alex’s parents don’t really want him hanging out with those kids, but what else is he going to do?


(*)  This fact sheet is based on a comprehensive review of scientific literature, including computer searches of the major bibliographic databases (e.g., PsychINFO, MEDLINE/PubMed, EBSCOhost) looking for epidemiological studies that determine what factors make boys more or less prone to certain outcomes. The literature search was limited to scholarly journal articles and government documents published in 2000 and later unless an article was a seminal piece in the field or contributed to tracking trends over time. The statistics provided are from the most recent year for which data were available. Where possible, data related specifically to boys are included, but when these data were not available, data on youth, ages 10 to 18, are provided.


Some Facts about Boys and Constructive Use of Time

For the millions of children and adolescents who regularly spend afterschool time without adult supervision, being able to work, volunteer, or participate in some form of physical, social, or religious activities is crucial. It’s during those hours that youth are more likely to experiment with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.(1)

Participation in Afterschool Activities

  • The percentage of kindergarten through eighth grade boys who participated in afterschool activities at least once per week increased from 2001 to 2005.(2)
  • In 2005, the afterschool activities in which boys most frequently participated were sports (34%), religious activities (18%), arts (12%), scouts (9%), community service (7%), academic activities (7%), and clubs (5%).(3)
  • About one-quarter (26%) of high school boys participate in a school club or activity.(4)
  • A 2007 study found that boys and girls who spent time relating with caring adults — whether a parent, coach, tutor, or employer — were more likely to have healthy development.(5)

Physical Activities

  • In a 2002 study, researchers reported that boys who did physical activities of any kind on a daily basis were less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.(6)
  • The same study also suggested that 10-, 12-, and 14-year-old boys who play organized sports were more likely to be involved in other activities, such as school clubs, music, arts, and volunteering.(7)

Religious Activities

  • In 2005, boys and girls who regularly attended religious services were less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, commit or be exposed to violence, or get into trouble.(8)

Volunteering and Service Learning

  • Between September 2006 and September 2007, 23% of boys, ages 16 to 19, volunteered an average of 39 hours of their time. This shows a downward trend: the previous year, 24% of boys of the same age volunteered.(9)
  • A 2008 study found that providing boys and girls with service learning opportunities increased helping behavior and perceptions of social responsibility.(10)
  • Boys’ rate of involvement in service learning has remained stable at around 46% since 1996.(11)


  • During the 2003-2004 academic school year, 25% of high school boys ages 16 to 18 were employed.(12)
  • Employed high school students spend more time in religious, spiritual, and volunteer activities than students who are not employed.(13) However, youth who work more than 20 hours a week may be at risk for negative outcomes including failure to complete high school, delinquent behavior, and substance abuse.(14),(15)

What Factors Influence Constructive Use of Time?

By studying how boys like Nick and Alex spend their time outside of school, researchers have learned valuable lessons about boys’ and girls’ risk factors — those traits and life experiences that can jeopardize a person’s healthy development — and protective factors — the characteristics and life experiences that can increase a person’s likelihood of positive outcomes.

Reasons young people may not make constructive use of their out-of-school time:

  • Low level of self-esteem(16)
  • Poor academic performance(17)
  • Lack of parental monitoring(18)
  • A neighborhood with limited access to resources, such as parks and recreation centers(19)

Factors that promote young people’s constructive use of time include:

  • Having many friends(20)
  • A sense of belonging at school and at home(21)
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities(22)
  • Having parents who volunteer their time(23)
  • Religious or spiritual connectedness(24)
  • A caring relationship with a significant adult other than a parent(25)


Much of the research on constructive use of out-of-school time has focused on the positive effects of participating in sports, creative activities (such as music and art), and religious activities. Researchers suggest that these types of activities may contribute to positive youth development because they provide youth with appropriate structure, opportunities for skill building, and supportive relationships with peers and adults.(26)

Positive out-of-school time activities can range from a group of young people hanging out at a friend’s house and playing basketball when a parent or other responsible adult is home, to more formal, licensed programs with highly structured curricula offered through schools.(27) They may be afterschool activities provided by community organizations or neighborhood programs that integrate school and community resources.(28) Whether structured and formal or impromptu and self-directed, constructive use of time has been associated with positive cognitive, behavioral, and social developmental outcomes.(29)

Therefore, providing young people, like Nick and Alex, with positive experiences that encourage constructive use of time helps make boys more likely to succeed as adults.

Research into what works to build boys’ strengths and reduce the challenges they face is still growing. Although the results are promising, efforts continue to pinpoint what strengths make some boys more likely to succeed and what risks, or challenges, increase the likelihood that they will struggle.


(1)  U.S. Department of Education. (n.d.). 21st Century Community Learning Centers. Retrieved March 11, 2008, from,

(2)  Child Trends. (n.d.). After-school activities. In Child Trends Data Bank. Retrieved March 27, 2008, from (in PDF format, 7 pages)

(3)  Child Trends. (n.d.). After-school activities.

(4)  Child Trends. (n.d.). After-school activities.

(5)  Tebes, J. K., Feinn, R., Vanderploeg, J. J., Chinman, M. J., Shepard, J., Brabham, T., et al. (2007). Impact of a positive youth development program in urban after-school settings on the prevention of adolescent substance use. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, 239–247.

(6)  Duncan, S. C., Duncan, T. E., Strycker, L, A., & Chaumeton, N. R. (2002). Relations between youth antisocial and prosocial activities. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 25, 425–438.

(7)  Duncan, S. C., Duncan, T. E., Strycker, L, A., & Chaumeton, N. R. (2002).

(8)  Fox, M., Connolly, B. A., & Snyder, T. D. (2005). Youth Indicators 2005:  Trends in the well-being of American youth (NCES 2005–050). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

(9)  U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2008). Volunteering in the United States, 2007. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved March 27, 2008, from

(10)  Rivers, A. & Moore, K. A. (2008). What works for civic engagement: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions. Child Trends Fact Sheet. Washington, DC: Child Trends.

(11)  Kleiner, B., & Chapman, C. (2000). Youth service-learning and community service among 6th- through 12th- grade students in the United States: 1996 and 1999 (NCES 2000-028). 2000.U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

(12)  Porterfield, S. L., & Winkler, A. E. (2007). Teen time use and parental education: Evidence from the CPS, MTF, and ATUS. Monthly Labor Review, 130, 37–56.

(13)  U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2007). Average hours per weekday spent by high school students in various activities. American Time Use Survey. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved March 28, 2008, from (in PDF format, 12 pages)

(14)  Warren, J.R., & Cataldi, E. F. (2006). A historical perspective on high school students’ paid employment and its association with high school dropout. Sociological Forum, 21, 113–143.

(15)  Apel, R., Paternoster, R., Bushway, S.D., & Brame, R. (2006). A job isn’t just a job: The differential impact of formal versus informal work on adolescent problem behavior. Crime & Delinquency, 52, 333–369.

(16)  Huebner, A. J., & Mancini, J. A. (2003). Shaping structured out-of-school time use among youth: The effects of self, family, and friend systems. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 32, 453–463.

(17)  Huebner, A. J., & Mancini, J. A. (2003).

(18)  Jacobson, K. C., & Crockett, L. J. (2000). Parental monitoring and adolescent adjustment: An ecological perspective. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 10, 65–97.

(19)  Moore, K. A., & Kahn, J. (2008). Family and neighborhood risks: How they relate to involvement in out-of-school time activities. In Child Trends Research to Result Fact Sheets. Retrieved June 12, 2008, from (in PDF format, 2 pages)

(20)  Huebner, A. J., & Mancini, J. A. (2003).

(21)  Little, P., & Lauver, S. (2005). Engaging adolescents in out-of-school time programs: Learning what works. The Prevention Researcher, 12, 7–10.

(22)  Tebes, J. K., Feinn, R., Vanderploeg, J. J., Chinman, M. J., Shepard, J., Brabham, T., et al. (2007).

(23)  Porterfield, S. L., & Winkler, A. E. (2007).

(24)  Child Trends. (n.d.). After-school activities.

(25)  Hamilton, S. F., Hamilton, M. A., Hirsch, B. J., Hughes, J., King, J., & Maton, K. (2006). Community contexts for mentoring. Journal of Community Psychology, 34, 727–746.

(26)  Child Trends. (n.d.). After-school activities.

(27)  Tebes, J. K., Feinn, R., Vanderploeg, J. J., Chinman, M. J., Shepard, J., Brabham, T., et al. (2007).

(28)  Michelsen, E., Zaff, J. F., & Hair, E.C. (2002). Civic engagement programs and youth development: A synthesis. Washington, DC: Child Trends.

(29)  Gootman, J. A. (Ed.). (2000). After-school programs to promote child and adolescent development: Summary of a workshop. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Product Type
Fact Sheet
Youth | Children