When Extracurricular Activities Stop Being Beneficial

I know of many parents, including some of my own aunts, uncles and friends, that spend the majority of their day helping their children participate in extracurricular activities. They meticulously organize each hour of the day to accommodate and fit in each child’s separate activities. I have an aunt, for example, who, with her three young children, is constantly running around to soccer, basketball, dance, theater, gymnastics, piano, swimming, and church activities. My grandparents are often pulled in to help take them places when the two of them can’t spread themselves thin enough to cover it all. 

The oldest of their daughters described her day as “busy” and “different every day depending on the activity”. When I was a young girl, I had maybe one or two extracurricular activities and spent most of my after-school time simply playing around the neighborhood or inside with my siblings. 

So the question arises: When do extracurricular activities stop being beneficial? Let’s look at the Pros and Cons.

Pros of Extracurricular Activities

Academic Performance

Many studies have shown that being involved in extracurricular activities increases children’s academic performance.  Reeves studied data at Woodstock High School in Woodstock, Illinois and found students who were in three or four extracurricular activities during the year had dramatically better grades than those who participated in no extracurricular activities.

Another study, by the College Board, found that high school extracurricular participation is correlated with higher SAT scores; SAT math by 45 points and SAT verbal scores by 53 points.

Better Social Skills

Obviously, the more interaction children have with others the better their social skills will become. Being involved in extracurricular activities puts children in situations where they can practice their social skills. They will learn how to communicate with coaches, teachers and leaders, as well as how to work and communicate as a team in group activities. 

Cons of Extracurricular Activities

Health

When children are being lugged around each day from school to each of their activities just in time to get home and go to bed, their minds are being over-stimulated and aren’t given time to relax. This overstimulation can lead to stress and anxiety, starting at a young age. 

Peter Gray, author of the book “Free to Learn,” ties this lack of free play to the increase in children suffering from anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), it’s estimated that 1 in 8 children suffers from an anxiety disorder. More worrisome, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that 25 percent of teens ages 13-18 will experience some form of anxiety. 

Loss of Creativity

I remember coming home as a child and having to figure out what I was going to do to be entertained. I had a few siblings I would play with and we often found ourselves playing ‘school’ or ‘restaurant’. These make-believe games helped us to nurture our imagination and creativity. 

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a developmental and clinical psychologist, believes that “…children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no ‘nothing time.’ They have no time to call on their own resources and be creative. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen. In our efforts to produce Renaissance children who are competitive in all areas, we squelch creativity.”

Balance

After all is said and done, the best solution would be to incorporate a balance in our children’s lives. Just like we try to balance their diet, incorporating appropriate amounts of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and sugars, we must balance their time so that they can enjoy extracurricular activities but also be able to simply run around and be a kid, especially when that allows them to spend more time with their family. 

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