Students who discuss their studies, school activities, and other concerns with their parents feel safer in school, according to a study of children 10 to 15 years old being highlighted by the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign.
Ironically, parents' presence at the school had little impact in these students' perceptions of school safety, researchers at the university found.
Mary Keegan Eamon, a social work professor, co-led the study "Students' Perceptions of Unsafe Schools: An Ecological Systems Analysis," which examined the relationship of children's perceptions of school safety with various demographic characteristics of the children, their families and their home and school environments. Jun Sung Hong, a doctoral student, worked on the research that used a nationally representative sample of more than 1,200 young people. (Their study appears in Volume 21, Issue 3 of the Journal of Child and Family Studies, which was released in June 2012; the university put out a news release about it this week.)
At school, teacher involvement, rule enforcement, and being able to make friends easily were identified as factors that increased a feeling of safety, the researchers said.
Hong and Eamon examined the relationship of children's perceptions of school safety, comparing it to various socio-demographic characteristics of the children, their families and their home and school environments.
While most students in the study had no concerns about school safety, close to a third of the young people perceived their schools as unsafe to some degree. Children living in poverty, in neighborhoods with higher crime rates, and who attended inner-city schools were more likely to perceive their school environments as dangerous, according to an announcement from the university.
Eamon, in the news release about the research, said it might be that children who had better communication with their parents were "more willing to discuss what's going on in school and felt their parents might do something to try to protect them or make things better for them. Keeping that communication open with children about what's going on in schools seems to be very important."
The academics found it surprising that none of the other parent variables—school involvement, attending school meetings/events, volunteering at the school or speaking with the teachers— related significantly to students' safety perception.
"You'd think that the more parents were involved in the school system, the more likely it would be that kids would perceive it as safer, just because the parents might see that there are problems and be more involved in fixing them, but we didn't find anything" that corroborated that, Eamon is quoted as saying.
Parental involvement in schools might have more impact on younger children's perceptions of safety than on early adolescents, who tend to rely less on their parents and more on their peers, according to Hong.
Not surprisingly, children in the study who had seen a peer carrying a weapon at school were 70 percent more likely to perceive their schools as unsafe. Male students and older students were also more likely to report that they schools are not safe.
The university's full account of the study is available here.
Do you have a theory about why 10- to 15-year-olds would feel safer at school simply because they talk to their parents about school, but not necessarily because their parents show up at school?