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Extracurricular Excess

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By Tim Jahn, M.ED

It’s generally accepted that participation in extracurricular activities has many benefits. There is a positive correlation between extracurricular participation and school performance. Teams and clubs help kids make friends and acquire social skills, especially important for introverted teens who may have difficulty socializing on their own. Sports and athletic programs teach discipline and improve physical fitness – a real plus when childhood obesity is epidemic. Music, dance and gymnastics lessons provide talented youth with advanced instruction and practice. In fact, pre-teens and teens who don’t participate in any after-school activities are more likely to disconnect from school and engage in risky behaviors like drinking and drug use.

But even a good thing goes wrong when taken to extremes. When kids are over-involved in extracurricular activities, schoolwork and family life can suffer. Hectic schedules can increase stress on kids and their parents. Moreover, pressure from coaches, parents, or youth leaders to compete or achieve can undermine the positive effects of after-school activities. Finally, kids need downtime to relax and pursue unstructured interests.

The secret to extracurricular success, while avoiding extracurricular excess, is balance and moderation. Overeager joiners need your guidance in setting priorities and managing their time, while reluctant participants need your encouragement and support in identifying the best fit for their temperament and interests. Here are some guidelines for making decisions about extracurricular activities:

  • The “extra” in extracurricular not only means that activities happen out of the classroom, but that schoolwork comes first.
  • Let your pre-teen decide what interests him and if he wants to join. Don’t pressure him to participate in activities you like, but don’t hesitate to make suggestions.
  • Make sure she has the time to devote to the activity. If time is scarce, limit the number or kinds of activities she can join.
  • Decide if you can afford to support the activity. You may not have to attend every game, but you will probably need to chauffeur, assist with fund-raising, or otherwise help the team or club.
  • Expect kids to follow through on their commitments and not quit simply because practice is too hard or meetings are boring.

Tim Jahn is a Human Ecology Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program and leads workshops for parents of pre-teens and teens. He can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 331 or at tcj2@cornell.edu.

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