What teenagers get from extracurricular activities

Sport, drama, Scouts and Guides, hobbies like 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, like language classes, music, debating, religious instruction, swimming, or paid and unpaid jobs.

Taking part in extracurricular activities can:

  • give your child a chance to try a range of activities, explore where her strengths lie and find out what she’s good at
  • give your child a sense of achievement and boost her self-esteem and confidence
  • help your child avoid risk-taking behaviour by getting her involved in healthy, positive things like sport or community activity
  • promote good mental health
  • help your child learn to handle responsibility and develop her skills in planning and taking initiative
  • help your child learn to overcome tough times, which in turn can help your child succeed academically.

Encouraging your child to try extracurricular activities

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 extracurricular activities available, talking with her can help you work out what she might be interested in. You could find out what other teenagers do 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.

Your child might need your help to ease into a new group of people. After all, it can be hard 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 also start an activity gradually. For example, if your child’s ultimate 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. If your child doesn’t want to do an activity, he won’t enjoy it and won’t benefit from it. Making him do it will only lead to tension.

Finding the right balance with extracurricular activities

Balancing work and fun is a challenge for everyone – it’s a grown-up skill that’s 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 might 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, like around exams, at grand final time, or coming up to a big performance. But if your child is 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 start by asking her whether she feels she’s stretching herself too much.

Then 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 he ‘out’? Can he contribute to life at home, like doing his chores?
  • Balance of activities: how much sleep is your child getting? Does she have any down time? Can she get her homework done on time? Does she have time for friends? Is she 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 he irritable? Does he 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 she 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 he’s 9 will be different from what he can do at 12.

It can be hard to let your child stop doing an activity that she’s been doing for a long time. But giving your child some responsibility to choose activities lets her know that you trust her to manage her own time.

Working on time management for extracurricular activities

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 pm 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 whether we need to think about this and come up with a better plan’.

Work out priorities
You might suggest that your child asks herself these questions:

  • 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, like 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 has thought about the questions above, you could talk together about her ideas for what might change. 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 her to do an activity might help her sort out the pros and cons. You might say, ‘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 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 his plan into action – even if you’re not sure it will work – gives him 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.