The Critical Hours

I was reminded this week about an incident with one of our sons that took place when he was about thirteen.

With judgment likely impaired by the bouncing hormones of adolescence, he and a friend found and decided to use a pellet gun to shoot at a gallery of glass canning jars. That in itself wasn’t a brilliant idea but it was compounded by the fact that they decided to do it in the rather confined space of our basement.

Ultimately one of the pellets ricocheted off a jar, a wall, and then hit my son’s friend square in the mouth knocking out a front tooth. Knowing that it could have been much worse, we were grateful that the only damage was a lot of blood and a steep dental bill - mostly covered by his family’s health care plan.

The incident triggered a lot of guilt on our part as it happened after school within that brief window of time before his father or I got home from work.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that more youth mischief, crimes, and gang related violence occurs during this time period – specifically Tuesdays to Thursdays between 3:00 and 6:00 pm, and what children and youth do during these “critical hours” has an impact on their academic, social, emotional and physical growth and development.

Research has identified significant links between what children and youth are doing during these hours, and high-risk behaviour including alcohol, tobacco and drug use and low academic achievement.

TV and computers often dominate this time slot as do unhealthy food choices and a lack of physical activity among our youth. In fact only 10% are achieving the recommended physical activity targets. Not surprising then that we’re facing a frightening growth of obesity among our youth.

And, as if working parents didn’t have enough guilt already, research shows that children who are frequently alone during the Critical Hours have lower self-esteem and exhibit stress, anger, loneliness and depression.

So what do we do about this escalating community issue?

Well there’s no point in criticizing working parents because many simply don’t have a choice.

Perhaps all of us can begin by creating awareness that after school hours are more critical for youth then the more common perception of it being during late evenings or weekends.

We also need to accept that the solutions are complex and require a collective, collaborative, approach, and solutions that involve youth, families, schools, recreation service providers, government, law enforcement, businesses, and other non-profit organizations.

Sometimes it just takes one individual or organization to demonstrate the required leadership by convening a meeting to begin the conversations that will ultimately lead to solutions.

We will also need leadership and a willingness from the education sector to accept that all communities need schools that have their doors open beyond the regular school hours.

While we know teachers and principals have a lot on their plates and can’t be expected to run after school programs, we do expect them to work with other service providers to ensure children and youth have after school options that address the need for academic enrichment, tutoring, mentoring, arts and culture, and healthy social and physical development. 

It is also essential to understand and embrace the important role of recreation, sports, arts and culture in addressing the Critical Hours and beyond. While most communities are providing options for younger children we generally need to do more for tweens and teens especially beyond traditionally structured programs and sports. In our family this understanding was especially important for our one son in particular who needed more creative and artistic outlets.   

Will it be a challenge? Yes.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Addressing the Critical Hours is an investment in our future. We can invest now or choose instead as a community to pay much much more later.

Posted on 08-06-15

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