Benefits of Arts Exposure to Youth

hardatworkMany of us enjoy the Arts – music, theater, paintings and other visual arts. They can make our world seem more beautiful, and bring us joy and new perspective. But, did you know that the Arts can have a big impact on youth development?

Research shows that exposure to the Arts can help teens develop many positive skills and capacities that are valued by leaders and employers, such as persistence, collaboration, creative thinking, problem solving, motivation, and problem solving. In addition, studies demonstrate that Arts exposure can improve a teenager’s confidence and academic performance.

That said, many Arts programs in schools are the first to be cut when budgets get tight. For obvious reasons, when a school is facing financial problems, the school chooses math, science, history, and English lessons over music, drawing, or theater. The problem is that schools facing these types of difficult decisions are usually those that serve children of low socio-economic status. Schools with under-served and at-risk youth may have the least resources to provide quality art programs, yet studies show that these youth are the most likely to benefit.

Research Points to Benefits of Arts Education for At-Risk Youth

A 2012 study shows that teenagers and young adults of low socio-economic status, who are involved in arts activities, have better academic results, higher career goals, and better work opportunities. The study, The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies, was published in a report by the US National Endowment for the Arts. Among the study’s key findings:

Better academic outcomes — Teenagers and young adults of low socioeconomic status who have a history of in-depth arts involvement show better academic outcomes than those with less arts involvement. They earn better grades and have higher rates of college enrollment and attainment.

Higher career goals – Students with in-depth arts involvement have markedly higher career aspirations than youth without arts backgrounds. Half of all low socio-economic status youth with high levels of involvement in arts expected to work in a professional career such as law, medicine, education or management, compared to 21 percent of those with little arts involvement.

More civically engaged – Young adults who had intensive arts experiences in high school are more likely to show civic-minded behavior than young adults who did not, with comparatively high levels of volunteering, voting, and engagement with local or school politics.

According to a ten-year national study of over 25,000 high school students, students with lower socio-economic status who had sustained involvement in theatre arts were shown over time to have greater self-confidence, motivation, and empathy than did their non-arts peers.

In another 2012 study from the Afterschool Alliance, in partnership with MetLife Foundation, it was determined that involvement in the arts allows children to express themselves—tapping into their inventiveness and creativity—and is a fun outlet that helps positively stimulate and motivate students. Their research showed that the arts help students develop their memory and ability to focus, both of which benefitted them academically. Student behavior, which was measured by the numbers of suspensions and discipline referrals, improved in schools involved in an arts integration initiative, as did student attendance.

Evidence from a wide range of school- and community-based arts programs suggests that arts exposure can be instrumental in resolving conflicts, deterring problems with attendance and disruptive behavior, and building self-respect, self-efficacy, resilience, empathy, collaborative skills, and other characteristics and capacities that are linked to high student achievement.

Community Programs

We highly recommend that parents seek out programs that offer artistic exposure. Many nonprofits and community organizations provide services offering lessons in the Arts.

As a nonprofit serving teens for over 40 years in central New Jersey, Middle Earth offers such a program: The ART House. This free program helps to decrease risky behavior by teaching at-risk youth to safely and confidently express themselves. Professional artists conduct monthly workshops in the areas of Music, Theater, or Visual Arts, mimicking an apprenticeship. After the workshop, students exercise these skills daily, after school, by working on projects, which can include, but are not limited to: improvisational skits, single scene plays, film-making, collaborative murals, photography, individual art work, and songwriting with music. Youth also take educational trips to local museums, performances, and studios, as part of their exposure and learning experience. The Art House provides opportunities for youth to showcase their work or perform their talents for the community, friends and family.

Parents should look for similar artistic programs for their adolescents in their community. Filling your teen’s free time with constructive and positive activities helps decrease risky behavior. Filling your teen’s mind with artistic expression helps them develop many important skills that are valuable to a successful adulthood.


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