Are Extracurricular Activities Important?
Everyone can agree that school is important for youth. But what about extracurricular activities? Is football really making a difference in a young man’s life? Is playing in a band something nice for an adolescent or something more? Is going to the local community center really good for my child?
After-school programs and extracurricular activities can offer youth a safe and supervised haven and a chance to learn new skills such as conflict resolution, prepare for a successful career, improve grades and develop relationships with caring adults. These skills can be critical in helping youth develop in positive ways and to avoid behavior problems and conflict. The after-school hours are the peak time for juvenile crime and risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug use. Most experts agree that after-school programs offer a healthy and positive alternative.
Benefits of After-School Activities
Friends. A club or group is a great way to find friends. In clubs centered around an activity, children can meet others who share your interests. Youth can explore their physical, creative, social, political, and career topics with like-minded people. In other youth programs, children have the opportunity to meet teens who are different from them. Lots of youth programs bring people together with those who are different as a way to break down the barriers between people.
College. Extracurricular activities look good on college and job applications and show admissions officers and employers a child that is well-rounded and responsible. Specific activities help with specific goals — if a teen wants to teach language or get a bilingual job, being the president of the Spanish club shows the depth of their commitment. Additionally, most studies find that children who participate in these activities are more successful academically than those who don’t.
Creativity. After-school activities can provide an outlet for creativity and problem-solving. Obvious choices are arts and crafts, music, performing arts, but other activities like sports and collecting can teach problem-solving skills. The best activities for your children are those that encourage their natural curiosity and interests.
Teamwork and Respect. Teamwork is an important life skill both in home life and at work. Various group activities require children to work together to achieve a common goal and remove the focus from the individual to the team. Respect for coaches, teachers, leaders and their peers can also be developed through group activities. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts teach these important skills as well as some other activities like sports, drama and dance.
Time Management. Participating in one or more activities can teach a child how to juggle school, homework, family life, and their after-school activities as well and learn the importance of priorities and planning.
Self-Confidence. For a teen who is not gifted academically, the chance to excel in the arts or in sports, for example, can make a huge difference in self-esteem. Additionally, when children learn new skills and engage in social activities, they become more self-confident. Learning social skills, like cooperation, negotiation, and conflict resolution, in a fun and relaxed environment will help them interact appropriately with others – a skill valuable in all aspects of life from home life to the workplace.
Stress Relief. Many activities take place in a relaxing environment and begin with warm-up techniques or exercises. These promote healthy methods for dealing with stress. In an increasingly complex and pressure-oriented world, the more we are able to find positive ways to deal with stress, the better we are. All enjoyable activities provide a source of stress relief.
Real-World Skills. Many extracurricular activities – such as journalism, photography, debate, or even part-time jobs like cutting lawns or babysitting – teach real-world skills, which can lead to lifelong interests, even careers. Activities can teach real world skills that encourage life-long interests. They help kids explore their physical, creative, and social potential. They allow kids to find out where their career or political interests may lie.
Avoiding Risky Behaviors. – Despite the tendency to think of older children as able to take care of themselves, studies show that after-school activities benefit youth at all levels, from elementary to high school. In fact, middle and high school students may often benefit most from these programs. A recent survey of high school students, for example, revealed that students in after-school programs had greater expectations for the future and were more interested in school than their peers. The self-esteem and sense of purpose that children can get from serious involvement in extracurricular activities may help raise their aspirations and give them a reason to say “no” to risky behaviors. Students who spend no time in extracurricular activities, such as those offered in after-school programs, are 49 percent more likely to have used drugs and 37 percent more likely to become teen parents than are those students who spend one to four hours per week in extracurricular activities. The peak hours for juvenile crime and juveniles becoming a victim of violence are between 3 and 6 p.m. Lack of supervision, idle time or boredom tends to lead youth in the direction of bad behavior.
Ideas for After-School Activities
Join a sports team, ranging from basketball, baseball, soccer, track, gymnastics, tennis, aerobics, volleyball, and swimming within your community through the school, Recreation Department, or local YMCA.
School-sponsored clubs include the debating team, chess club, student government, newspaper, yearbook, environmental club, 4-H, scouts, language clubs, drama, choir, photography, band, Business Professionals of America, computer club, and much more.
Youth can get involved with groups as a way to get support from other students with your background, such as Latino or Jewish clubs.
Part-time jobs – such as bagging food at the local grocery story, mowing lawns, washing cars, pet sitting, and babysitting – keep youth engaged in safe activities and teach responsibility.
Local churches may also sponsor activities for youth, regardless of whether your family is a member, including youth groups, community service and recreational opportunities.
Community Youth Centers, such as the ones offered by Middle Earth, are safe, supervised places for teens to gather. They often offer a variety of positive activities such as recreational activities, life skills, homework assistance, and community service opportunities, as well as provide youth with caring adults for guidance and supervision.
A Parent’s Role in Outside Activities
- Carpooling. Before you think of the many miles and hours you will spend driving your children around to different activities as a chore, consider how you are contributing to your child’s development (see the benefits above). Plus, you can use the time in the car to talk with your teen to gain new insight into your child’s life and views.
- Balancing. Parents must help their children balance all of the demands on their time. There are no specific rules to determine how many activities are too much, but helping your child learn time management skills could be one of the most valuable lessons you teach them. Remind them that they must take care of themselves (by getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising) to enjoy the additional activities they undertake.
- Advocating. Support your school and other organizations that offer high-quality activities. Consider volunteering as a scout leader, coach or club leader. Parents who participate with their child may even find that they grow closer as they share conversation about their child’s interests.
- Identifying. The large variety of choices in extracurricular activities can be overwhelming for a child. Help your teen identify his/her options and interests.
- Encouragement and Support. Parents need to be supportive of their teen’s activities and interests, even if they are not fond of the chosen activity. Don’t force your adolescent into a sport or activity that interests you. Encourage your child to stick with an activity even if it appears difficult. Practice the activity with your child and support him or her by attending their events as often as possible.