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 and find out what they're good at
- give your child a sense of achievement and boost their self-esteem and confidence
- promote good mental health and a sense of belonging
- keep your child busy with healthy and positive challenges like sport or community activity
- help your child learn to handle responsibility, take initiative and solve problems
- help your child learn to overcome tough times.
Encouraging your child to try extracurricular activities
Not all teenagers are into extracurricular activities. That’s fine.
Some teenagers are keen but just need a bit of help to get started with extracurricular activities. If this sounds like your child, you can talk with them to work out what they're interested in. You could find out what other teenagers do by talking to other families, looking in the local paper or searching online. You could also ask your child’s school about its clubs and societies.
Your child might need help to ease into a new group of people. After all, it can be hard to turn up to something new, especially if you don’t know anyone. Perhaps your child has a friend who’d like to do the activity with them. Or you could arrange for your child 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, they could start by working as a stage hand.
It’s OK if your child doesn’t do many, or any, extracurricular activities. Your child might feel that they get to try and enjoy plenty of things at school. Extracurricular activities are voluntary. If your child doesn’t want to do an activity, they're unlikely to enjoy it and they won’t benefit from it. Making your child do it might lead to tension.
Finding the right balance with extracurricular activities
Balancing work and fun is a challenge for everyone – it’s a life 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 things are out of balance. These might include your child 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 before a big performance. But if your child is showing these signs of stress at other times, it might be worth looking at how much they're doing.
To work out whether your child is doing too much, you could just ask them whether they feel they have the balance right.
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? How long are they out for on weekends? Can your child contribute to life at home, like doing their chores?
- Balance of activities: how much sleep is your child getting? Do they have any down time? Can they get their homework done on time? Does your child have time for friends? Are they 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? Are they irritable? Do they 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 your child miss family activities? Do your child’s activities mean other family members miss out on doing things?
Different children can balance different amounts of extracurricular activity. This changes with age too. What your child can handle when they're 9 will be different from what they can do at 12.
It can be hard to let your child stop doing an activity that they've been doing for a long time. But giving your child some responsibility to choose activities lets them know that you trust them to manage their own time.
Working on time management for extracurricular activities
Talk with your child if you’re concerned that they need a better balance between extracurricular activities and other areas of their life. You could try the steps for time management suggested below.
Introduce your concerns
If you tell your child that you’ve noticed they don’t seem happy, seem tired, or seem too busy to do all the things they need to do, it can give them the chance to think about how they're spending their 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 to hear what they say. What does your child think about how their 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 thinks about 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 their own point of view, rather than having you ‘solve’ the problem for them.
Once your child has thought about the questions above, you could talk together about their ideas for what might change. You can give 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 they want to stop doing.
Telling your child why you want them to do an activity might help them 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. If you let your child put their plan into action, it gives them 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.