Journal Issue: When School Is Out Volume 9 Number 2 Fall 1999
This article summarized the major developmental changes that take place from age 6 to age 14 and reviewed transformations in children's reasoning during middle childhood and in physical development during puberty. It discussed the dramatic shifts in children's participation in the world beyond the family. In addition, it examined the key psychological challenges that mark the middle-childhood years (self-awareness, social comparison, and self-esteem) and the early-adolescent years (a drive for autonomy paired with a continuing need for close, trusting relationships with adults).
For most children this is an exciting time of positive growth and development, but for some (estimates range as high as 25% to 40%),27 it is a time of declining motivation, mental health, and involvement with schools and organized activity programs. The fit between the individual's psychological needs and the opportunities provided by the family, the school, and other programs contributes significantly to an individual child's response to the pressures of this period. For example, if there is a mismatch between the young person's desire for autonomy and the amount of independence offered at school or in other program settings, children and young adolescents are likely to develop a more negative view of these contexts and of themselves as participants. Similarly, if these settings produce stressful or superficial social relationships between youths and adults, children and young adolescents will not look to the adults in these settings as a source of emotional support and guidance.
There are clear implications of these findings for out-of-school programs. First, such programs provide a major nonfamilial setting in which children and early adolescents can express their individuality, master new skills, and seek emotional support from adults. Second, programs that offer mixed-age groups and activities that highlight effort rather than competition can support the children's confidence in their ability to become productive, positive members of their communities. Such programs can offer the zone of safety and comfort that is crucial for healthy development by providing a place where children and early adolescents can experiment, but where the adults are available to catch them if they start to get into trouble. Third, the programs can design activities for children and early adolescents that are sensitive to the development that is so dramatic during this period by combining security and comfort with expanding leadership opportunities that recognize and respect children's increasing maturity. For instance, focus groups and rap sessions give children and early adolescents a chance to discuss the issues that concern them while allowing significant adults to learn about their lives. Opportunities to engage in community service show young people new avenues for responsibility, while helping them feel like valued members of their community.