By Robert L. Mues   |   May 23rd, 2009

This is the first of a two-part series dealing with children’s extracurricular activities. Next week, I will address the impact the divorce may take on a child’s extracurricular activity schedule when the parents have conflicts with each other.

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There is no doubt that extracurricular activities can be very beneficial to a child. According to a recent study by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, children who participate in after-school programs are more engaged and have a better attitude about learning, perform better academically and enjoy an increased sense of accomplishment, competence and self-esteem. Additionally, participation also lowers children’s risk of becoming depressed, using drugs and alcohol, and experiencing other behavioral problems.

Recently, while researching this topic, I came across an excellent article about how to choose after-school activity(ies) for children at www.scholastic.com. It also gives a breakdown discussing appropriate types and numbers of activities per week which are recommended based on the age and maturity of the child starting with kindergarten through middle school. The article offers advice which will help a parent determine if it is time for their child to start an extracurricular activity, what’s the best option and how to find a good program.

Recently, Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., a child psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital and Dayton Daily News columnist, addressed a similar inquiry from a reader wondering if a child can be too involved with an extracurricular activity. Here the reader was asking about their 15 year old daughter, Maddie, who’s been involved in gymnastics since she was three years old and practices about 16 hours during the weekdays and competes on weekends year round. In response to that background, Dr. Ramey gives advice on how you can tell if your child’s dedication is beneficial or excessive.

  1. Be mindful of the effects on the entire family. While it’s great that kids are passionate about something, you need to carefully assess the impact on others, particularly siblings. Family life involves endless compromises in trying to balance the needs of adults and kids. In families with a high achieving teen, other siblings may inadvertently pay a high cost. The support of one child shouldn’t come at the cost of other family members.
  2. Keep the activity in perspective. While we don’t want to discourage kids from their passions, they do need a reality check about the significance of their activity for their future educational and vocational aspirations. Maddie’s mom has made it clear to her daughter that “school is number one.”
  3. Be willing to walk away from the activity. There have been times when Maddie has encountered tough times and wanted to end gymnastics. How would her mom and dad have responded if she wanted to stop gymnastics? “My parents are really into it…they wouldn’t be too happy.” Disappointment and frustration are inherent in the passionate pursuit of excellence. There are times when you should offer encouragement and not allow your child to give up when confronting difficulties. However, you should anticipate and be willing to accept the reality that there may be a time when your child abandons their passion for other pursuits.
  4. Regularly assess the real value of the activity. Most of our kids will never grow up to be professional baseball players or gymnasts. The value of their commitment is less in the acquisition of athletic skills and more in habits and friendships that persist long after the activity has ended. Maddie’s mom described the peer support that Maddie gets daily in the gym as “…the kind of friendships you don’t often get in life.” Maddie has also learned about discipline, persistence, and time management – habits that will serve her well throughout her lifetime.

Dr. Ramey concluded that, “The child may never back flip her way to the Olympics, but I suspect she will be a successful person in whatever she does.”

One of the points clearly made in the scholastic.com article mentioned above is that it’s important to watch your child for signs of over-scheduling. “In younger children, this most often takes the form of irritability, avoiding eye contact and tantrums. In older children, look out for mood swings, recurrent sickness, such as stomach aches, and complaints about the activities themselves. At any age, if the school work begins to suffer, it’s time to cut back.” Click here to read the full article, by Toby Leah Bochan, at scholastic.com.

While balancing children’s extracurricular activities can be difficult in a conventional intact family, read next week’s blog article where I discuss the impact that a divorce may have on juggling a child’s activities and parenting time.

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Robert L. MuesAbout The Author: Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.

Children’s Extracurricular Activities Appropriate Or Excessive?

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