This investigation focused on substance use among children who regularly care for themselves after school (latchkey children). The data, collected from 4932 eighth-grade students, indicated that self-care is an important risk factor for alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana use. Data collected from 2185 parents validated these findings. Eighth-grade students, who took care of themselves for 11 or more hours a week, were at twice the risk of substance use as those who did not take care of themselves at all. This relationship held at all levels of sociodemographic status, extracurricular activities, sources of social influence, and stress. Of the 186 stratified tests of the relationship, 90% were significant; even those not found to be significant were in the direction expected. Path analyses suggest that risk-taking, having friends who smoke, and being offered cigarettes may partially explain the relationship between self-care and substance use. Those eighth-grade students who select friends who smoke and place themselves in situations in which they are offered cigarettes may be manifesting a desire to display their sense of maturity and independence. The fact that the increase in substance use occurred among almost all strata tested and the fact that mediation was not complete suggest that more than one mechanism may account for the associated increase in substance use. It is also possible that more time in self-care results in more unnoticed solitary trials of substances, as well as trials motivated by peer offers or peer pressure to use substances.
- Received July 5, 1988.
- Accepted October 11, 1988.
- Copyright © 1989 by the American Academy of Pediatrics