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Earlier focus was on the shift from family to
friendship and reference groups. Here focus is on extracurricular and other
organized activities from the perspective of the motivations, advantages, and
disadvantages of participation. There are four important factors related to your
child’s involvement in organized activities, namely, motivation, advantages,
disadvantages, and the proportion of time and energy appropriate to such
activities. Let’s examine these four factors individually.

With your preschooler, motivation comes initially
from you. You think your preschooler should be involved in church activities,
organized playground activities, nursery school or preschool groups, story
groups at libraries, and so on. For your grade schooler, motivation also comes
from peer pressure, school and community expectations, and from your child’s
own desire to be involved in the grade school community. For your adolescent,
all of these sources of motivation continue, with the pull of peers, and dating
relationships becoming quite intense.

Why do you want your children to become involved
in organized activities? First you think your preschooler will pick up skills
and attitudes which will be useful when he goes to school. You also may place
value on the content of what is being learned, such as religious information
and attitudes. Next, you think getting out and interacting with other children
helps your preschooler’s social and emotional development. Finally, you feel
your child should have all the social opportunities and advantages available
and participation leads to greater acceptance by others. These factors are
legitimate. To ignore them is to neglect your child. To keep your children at
home and avoid involvements in such activities neglects their social and
emotional development and denies them the opportunity to have healthy group
experiences away from home.

Do not place undue emphasis on being involved in
organized activities. One or two such activities is good; beyond that they may
take up too much valuable time and energy. If your preschool or grade school
child is not involved in any organized or extracurricular activities, consider his
becoming involved in at least one such outside activity. If he is regularly
involved in play activities with other children, involvement in an organized
activity may be unnecessary. Also give careful attention to how much of your
child’s time is invested in organized activities. For your preschooler, two or
three hours a week is plenty (excluding a day care or babysitting program). For
your adolescent, more than six hours a week of extracurricular or organized
activities is questionable and needs careful thought with respect to the time
spent with one activity in relation to other activities in which your child has
(or wants) to participate, e.g., school. Between the preschool and the high
school years, there is a gradual increase in the amount of time spent in
extracurricular or organized activities. Yes, your high school student may be
involved in a play, the marching band, the school newspaper, or an athletic
team, and may need to be involved for considerably more than six hours some
weeks. Over the course of a year, however, an average of about six hours a week
is enough.

Participation in extracurricular or organized
activities should be at least as important to your child as to you. If you have
to push him to go to meetings or practices, then examine why it is more
important to you than to him. If your child really wants to be involved, feels
it is his idea, and is willing to invest the time and energy (and if you find
the activity acceptable) then encourage him to participate. If he is reluctant
to get involved, you might encourage him to try it for a while to see how it
goes. Stop pushing if it seems you are more motivated than he is, or if his motivation
is coming from someone else. Place limits on what kinds of activities and how
much your children are involved. Carefully examine your motivations and theirs.

Do extracurricular activities build character?
For instance, you hear coaches say athletic competition builds character, the
implication being people who are not involved in athletic competition have less
character. This is nonsense. Well-run athletic programs present many
opportunities for healthy competition, fair play, hard work, camaraderie, and
team effort. But so do lots of other things. Character formation primarily
takes place during the preschool and early grade school years and is certainly
not affected much by whether or not your child is later involved in athletic
competition. No, involvement in organized or extracurricular activities does
not have much to do with building character. The advantages are mostly social
and educational.

The disadvantages in extracurricular or
organized activities are many. Everyone involved is not successful, not all get
recognition for their achievements, or derive in-group status as a result of
participation. Involvement in extracurricular or organized activities may, in
fact, have more disadvantages than advantages for your child. The coach says,
“Everyone gets to play.” By that he means if the team is way ahead or
way behind even the worst player will get to play, since it makes no difference
in the outcome. In this situation, getting to play may be fairly demeaning. In
large schools, everyone in the band gets to play, but not everyone can be in
the band. For some children, then, involvement in extracurricular or organized
activities only gives emphasis to their marginal social or skill status.

Should your child be encouraged to avoid such
activities? No, but just being part of the group or activity does not
necessarily give her the advantages of full participation. At times, it may be
appropriate to say, “If you are not going to get to play, if you are not
going to be really involved in the activity, you may want to think about using
your time and energy in other ways.” If your child seems to be really
enjoying the activity, does not seem too upset about marginal involvement,
seems to be accepted by the other children and adults, and wants to continue participation,
then give her your encouragement and support. Nonetheless, give her ample
opportunity to use her time and talents elsewhere. Involvement in organized
activities is for your child’s benefit, not yours.

As a parent, be careful how you deal with the
adults responsible for extracurricular programs. While most extracurricular
activities are organized in terms of success, achievement, accomplishment and
recognition, the activity should never become more important than the children’s
well being. Adults who run such programs should never place more priority on
winning than on relating to and successfully working with the children. Do you
judge the band director by how well the young people march or by how much they learn
about music and how much fun they are having? Do you judge a recreation program
at the park in terms of how many children complete their projects and how well
the projects are done, or do you judge the program in terms of how the children
seem to enjoy the program? It is neither one nor the other. Judge the people
responsible for these programs by both the accomplishments of the program and
the way they relate to children.

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