Extracurricular activities are the fun and interesting things your child does outside of school. They let your child pursue an interest or a passion, meet like-minded people, or develop new skills and abilities. Balance is the key when it comes to these activities.
What teenagers get from extracurricular activities
Sport, drama, Scouts and Guides, hobbies such as craft or photography – extracurricular activities can be just about anything your child enjoys outside school. They can also be things you’ve encouraged your child to do, such as language classes, music, debating, religious instruction, swimming, or even paid and unpaid jobs.
Taking part in extracurricular activities can:
- give your child a chance to try a range of activities and explore where her strengths lie
- boost your child’s self-esteem and confidence
- give your child a sense of achievement
- reduce risky behaviour – for example, the positive connections made through these activities can protect against underage drinking
- promote good mental health
- help your child work out who she is
- help your child learn to handle responsibility
- develop your child’s skills in planning and taking initiative
- help your child learn how to regulate her emotions
- help your child learn to overcome tough times, which in turn can help your child succeed academically.
Encouraging your child to take part
Not all teenagers are into extracurricular activities. That’s fine. But sometimes teenagers want to try something new and just need a bit of help to get started. If this sounds like your child, you can encourage him to take part in extracurricular activities by providing opportunities and practical help.
If you feel your child hasn’t considered all the activities available, talking with her can help you work out what she might be interested in. You could find out what teenagers in the area are doing by talking to other families or by looking in the local paper. You could also ask your child’s school what clubs and societies it has – there could be activities happening outside your child’s circle of friends.
Your child might need your help to ease into a new group of people. After all, it can be difficult to turn up somewhere, not knowing anyone and wondering whether you’ll fit in. Perhaps your child has a friend who’d like to do the activity with him. You could also offer to go with him, or arrange for him to meet someone who already does the activity.
Your child could start an activity gradually. For example, if your child ultimate’s goal is to be on the stage with a local theatre group, she could start by working as a stage hand.
It’s OK if your child doesn’t do many, or any, extracurricular activities. He might prefer his own company or solo interests, or he might feel that school offers him all the stimulation or opportunity he wants. Extracurricular activities are voluntary. You might wish your child was more involved, but if he doesn’t want to do an activity, he won’t enjoy it and won’t benefit from it.
Finding the right balance
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.
If you’re worried that your child has taken on too many extracurricular activities, there are some signs that can show things are out of balance for her. These include her being tired, grumpy or stressed and having trouble sleeping.
You and your child might be able to cope with this in short bursts, such as around exams, at grand final time, or coming up to a big performance. But if your child’s showing these signs of stress at other times, it might be worth looking at how much he’s doing.
To work out whether your child is doing too much, you could have a look at these things:
Time away from home: how many nights does your child come home after 8.30 or 9 pm? What time on the weekends is she ‘out’? Can she contribute to life at home, such as doing her chores?
Balance of activities: how much sleep is your child getting? Does he have any down time? Can he get his homework done on time? Does he have time for friends? Is he spending lots of time in singing lessons and tennis practice, for example, at the expense of school or socialising?
Behaviour: does your child seem happy? Is she irritable? Does she seem stressed a lot of the time?
Impact on the family: how many family meals are missed, or disrupted, by your child’s activities? Is this a problem for your family? How often does he miss family activities? Do your child’s activities mean other family members miss out on doing things?
Everyone’s different, and different children can balance different amounts of extracurricular activity. This changes with age too. What your child can handle when she’s nine will be different from what she can do at 12.
Working on time management
Talk with your child if you’re concerned that he needs a better balance between extracurricular activities and other areas of his life. You might want to break this up into several sessions, focusing on his time management. You could try the steps suggested below.
Introduce your concerns
If you tell your child that you’ve noticed she doesn’t seem happy, seems tired, or seems too busy to do the things she used to do or needs to do, it can give her the chance to think about how she’s spending her time and energy.
For example, you might say, ‘You seem so busy at the moment. I wonder if you’ve got too much on?’ or ‘We need to have a think about how late the sessions are finishing, because you’re not getting to bed until 10.30 three nights a week’.
Work out how your child’s time is spent
You or your child could create a weekly chart, with details for each day’s activities and how long they take. You might read over the chart with your child and wait for him to make the first observation. What does he think about how his week looks?
You could let your child know how things look to you. For example, ‘You must be struggling to find time for homework each night with this schedule’, or ‘There isn’t much time for just hanging out with family and friends in your week’. Then you could say, ‘I wonder if we need to think about this and see if we can find a better plan’.
Work out priorities
You might suggest that your child asks herself:
- What would I like to do more or less of?
- What stuff is the most important to me?
- What’s important to us as a family?
- What do I have to do, such as schoolwork?
This gives your child the chance to think about the issue from his point of view, rather than having you ‘solve’ the problem for him.
Once your child’s had a think about the questions above, you could talk together about what she thinks could be changed. You might give guidance or feedback on the things you agree with, or any problems you see.
For example, there might be activities that you’d like your child to continue, but which he wants to stop doing. Telling your child why you want him to do an activity might help him sort out the pros and cons. You might say, ‘I think it’s important that you learn to swim. It’s too dangerous when you go to the beach if you can’t swim properly’. Or ‘I’d like you to be able to speak at least a bit of Spanish so you can talk to your grandmother on the phone’. It’s OK if you want to point out your family’s priorities too. For example, ‘Sunday night dinner is important to us. It’s something we really want to do as a family’.
You might negotiate with your child to stick with an activity for another term or six weeks, just ‘to see if it gets any better’.
Assess the plan
Your child is learning time management and priority-setting skills. Letting your child put her plan into action – even if you’re not sure it will work – gives her the chance to practise these skills.
You and your child might need to tweak the new schedule. It’s about juggling your child’s desire to make things happen with the realities of how demanding certain activities are, how much time they take, and how possible it is for your family to manage it all.