Will the Activity Tip the Scales?

Collaboration. Problem solving. Responsibility. Skills. With all of the benefits that extracurricular activities offer children, it is no wonder why parents don't hesitate in signing slips that grant their sons and daughters permission to be a part of a team, club, or group. Success in the activity can boost self-esteem. While learning to work alongside their peers, each individual becomes more adept at skills or recognizing limitations. The individual is actively pursuing a path to self-discovery. The experiences may be positive, but the chances for negative experiences are real. Extracurricular activities can change the life of the individual as well as the life of that individual's family. Before parents sign the next permission slip, each should contemplate the effects of participating in the next extracurricular activity. It does not matter whether the child will be enrolling in his/her first activity ever or the third for a single season during senior year. Dance, karate, painting, student council, band, etc.; the type of extracurricular activity makes no difference. The motives and goals for joining, along with how healthy of a choice this will be for the child, are what matters in making your decision.

First, be honest with yourself: Is this choice of extracurricular activity selected to serve your own purposes? What may have been a smooth road for you might be under construction for your child. If you are telling yourself a story about how your child will be celebrated for his/her involvement in the activity, then you are heading into dangerous territory. According to Michael Thompson, who is a clinical psychologist and author of The Pressured Child, kids of highly successful people tend to be pushed by their parents' own agendas. Activities, recommends Thompson, should be chosen for the well-being of the child. If you yourself happened to be an all-star player, a captain, or a president, you may feel your child will have the same acumen to do well in the activity you experienced in your youth. It might happen. If your child lacks the motivation or enthusiasm necessary for participation, however, move on for now. Forcing your child into it may be detrimental to his/her self-esteem. Instead, look for what interests your child. Helping your child find what is best suited for him/her sends a message of love and caring.

Participating in an activity will require dedication, which often entails you figuring out how expenses related to time, transportation, and equipment may impact the health of your family, both mentally and monetarily. Logistics and financial resources may prevent participation. Depending on the activity, family dinners may begin being served to buckled-in passengers en route to the Friday night competition. Besides juggling the activities' schedules, your family will need to find a way to balance time among school, work, family, friends, and, perhaps most importantly, rest.

The quantity of sleep a body needs is much less for adults than it is for children. A 5-year-old child needs 12 hours of sleep; a 10-year-old, 10 hours. For teens, 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep is recommended (Ruzich). Too many activities may limit the hours one can sleep, but sometimes one activity alone may prove to be too strenuous on a body. Every child adapts to activities and their schedules differently. Lack of sleep can lead to physical problems, but if a child has adequate time to sleep, he/she may still have physical complaints. This could be a sign of not wanting to participate in the activity. Frequent illnesses, frequent injuries, and frequent mood swings can all be indicators of a serious underlying problem that may be caused or exacerbated by trying to have too busy of a schedule.

Young children oftentimes lack the words to articulate feelings of being overwhelmed or dissatisfied. To communicate their problems, they may complain of feeling ill prior to attending their activity. Older children may not vocalize their disappointment in how the activity is affecting their life. This is particularly common among teens who come from highly-successful parents. According to "Too Many Activities for Kids?" by Joseph Ruzich, older children "may not speak up because they feel they are obligated to be overachievers like their parents." Encourage honest conversation and apply conflict-resolution strategies when guiding your child.

Social interaction brings great benefits to kids when it is supervised by responsible adults. Clinical psychologist, Mary Rooney, reports that the one- or two-hour period of unsupervised time following school is the most risky time for kids, especially high school students. Temptations like drugs, alcohol, and sex threaten them. After-school activities alleviate worrisome working parents' minds by providing kids with a safe environment.

As your child's schedule begins to fill up, stay alert of how the activities affect life. Is an activity becoming a major interference? Are your child's goals and mastery of skills still attainable with a loaded schedule? If a conflict begins or may be unavoidable with the addition of another activity, then it is time you and your child revisit the motivation for joining the activity. No one wants to have to drop out of something just because he/she is involved with too much.

Our culture has a tendency to push kids into being the best instead of being their best. Lead your child in discovering the activities offered in your community, but listen when he/she indicates one is not right for him/her. We must keep providing outlets for kids to perform to their utmost capabilities and talents. We need kids with honed skills, not padded résumés. Those who live and work closely with children must provide guidance in ways that will open doors to each child's future and not the future that has been predetermined by the adults in their lives.