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Family Bonding Matters When Times Are Tough

Miami Herald

The young participants in Shake-A-Leg Miami’s Saturday program — mostly kids with physical and developmental challenges — arrive at the aquatic facility in Coconut Grove around noon each week to find some 30 students from MAST Academy waiting for them. Those high school volunteers come to organize kayak rides, basketball games and lunch. Yes, the Shake-a-Leg participants benefit tremendously. But those who gain the most are perhaps the volunteers, themselves.

“It helps our kids develop workforce skills and build networks in the community,” says Sandy Moise, assistant principal at MAST Academy. “It gives them a sense of purpose, responsibility and helps them to build leadership skills.”
Experts say when it comes to teens, prosocial behavior — today’s hot term for selfless deeds that benefit family, friends and community — is an important marker for success in high school and beyond. Thing is, researchers are now reporting that middle-class and upper middle-class parents who are depressed over money problems can disconnect from their teens who, in turn, withdraw from the kind of altruistic activities that, in the end, help those teens most of all. Basically, investing too much energy in your financial despair could cost your kids an important emotional connection — one that helps them succeed later in life.
Experts here in Miami are divided on the findings, which for the first time don’t depict poor households but rather wealthier families. But one thing on which all authorities agree: It’s practically free and pretty easy to employ creative ways to connect with our kids.The Great Recession technically may be over, but its effects linger, especially in South Florida, where the unemployment rate in February was 10.3 percent in Miami-Dade County and 7.9 percent in Broward. Lost jobs include construction occupations and public service trades, such as police officers and teachers, says Amy Traub, a senior policy analyst in the economic opportunity program at Demos, a public policy, research and advocacy organization in New York.
“That’s especially crucial to the middle class,” she says. “People who used to have a comfortable standard of living are feeling the strain of being out of work.”