Finding the Right Balance of Extracurricular Activities

CBR003158Getting involved in extracurricular activities is an excellent way for teens to grow and learn. After-school activities offer a broad range of benefits including:

  • making friends;
  • showing you are well-rounded on college applications;
  • developing creativity and problem-solving skills;
  • encouraging teamwork and respect;
  • learning time management;
  • avoiding risky behaviors (such as drug use);
  • creating self-confidence; and
  • helping teens define who they are through positive experiences.

From sports teams to school clubs to community youth centers to volunteer opportunities to part-time jobs, the possibilities for extracurricular activities feel almost endless. You can learn more about the benefits of extracurricular activities, the types of activities available to teens, and a parent’s role in these activities in our previous blog, Are Extracurricular Activities Important?  Today’s blog is focusing on finding a healthy balance of activities.

Deciding What to Join

Balancing work and fun is a challenge for everyone – it’s one of those grown-up skills that are important for your child to learn. Teenagers can easily get very excited about several activities and want to join everything. So, this becomes a perfect teaching moment for parents.

Many experts feel that individuals can only excel at three things at once. Research supports the theory that as humans take on more and more activities, they become less and less productive or effective in each activity. Under this principle, parents should count school as one of their child’s three things and allow them to invest in no more than two extracurricular activities of their choice.

Regardless of how many activities you decide to let your child participate in, it’s important to teach your teen how to decide what to join by thinking through their options and schedule. Here are a few ways to help them do that:

  • Ask your teen to collect as much information as possible about what each activity entails. How often, where and when will they need to participate? Does it impact weekends? How much work outside of meeting/practice times will they need to invest?
  • Ask your teen to lay out their schedule in a weekly chart with details for each day’s activities and how long they take. Notice where activities cause late bedtimes or where a day doesn’t offer enough time for homework or downtime. Remind your teen that they need to get plenty of sleep, still participate in family activities, have time to socialize with friends, and have downtime to unwind.
  • Inform your teen of family priorities. For example, if your family tries to eat dinner together four times a week, but your teen’s activities only allow twice a week, your teen may need to make adjustments.
  • Ask your teen to create pros and cons for each activity. Then, ask them to prioritize their possible activities based on all of the information above. This allows your child to “solve” the problem, instead of you. You can offer guidance and/or feedback, but try to let your child rebalance their life themselves.


Is your teenager burning out?

Each aspect of your teen’s life – school, extracurricular activities, social relationships and family – all demand time from your teen. Even if you carefully think through what they should join as we suggested above, your teen may still end up with too much. If your teen is overloaded, they may begin to burnout. Here are signs to look for:

  • Grumpy and/or irritable
  • Exhausted and/or withdrawn
  • Anxious and/or stressed
  • Change in appetite
  • Inability to sleep well (hard to fall asleep and/or frequent wake-ups)
  • Unable to concentrate or restless
  • Lost interest in things previously enjoyed
  • Complaints of neck pain, back pain, or stomachaches
  • Falling behind in schoolwork

If you are seeing any of these signs, talk to your teen. They may feel overwhelmed but think they cannot let everyone down by backing out of any of their commitments. You need to encourage your teen to make a change to their schedule by emphasizing that it is healthier for them and will make them feel happier, which will make them more successful in the activities they continue to do.

How to Back Out of Activities

If your teen is overcommitted and stressed, urge them to reconsider their commitments. One of their activities may just not be the right match for them or could be too time-consuming. Help them to look at their schedule and decide what would be a healthy balance between school, extracurriculars, family, and their social life. Remind them that they will not be helping themselves or their team/group, if they are stressed or falling asleep during activities. Sometimes saying “no” or backing out of a commitment is the most mature and responsible response. Once your teen has decided to drop an activity, recognize that telling everyone they are backing out is extremely stressful for your youth. Coach them in what to say to their advisor or coach. Encourage them to be direct, polite and honest.

Final Thoughts…

Every child is a unique individual, and as such, will be able to handle different amounts of activity. An extroverted child will become energized by daily activity, while an introverted child may be able to only handle one activity per week. A child’s ability to balance activities will change with age, too. The amount of activity your child can handle at age 12 will be very different from what he or she can handle at age 16. In our fast-paced culture, you, as a parent, will be doing your children a great service if you will teach them now to appreciate and search for the right balance in their lives.

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