To Play or Not to Play: That is the Fight

Recently, we have been observing more fights over extracurricular activities for children. Sometimes, we are asked, “What are extracurricular activities, and do I have to approve each and every one that my child does?” This is a good question and dealt with as two questions in one.

First, what are extracurricular activities? In a simple explanation, this would be anything your child does outside of normal school hours. Extracurricular activities “include arts, athletics, clubs, employment, personal commitments, and other pursuits.” These activities can be a program or sport sponsored by the child’s school or school district, through community education, or offered from a private studio, dance school, or instructor. Extracurricular activities can include tutoring for assistance in classes that your child may be struggling with. Often, I am asked the follow up question of why are the extracurricular activities important. The answer for each client depends on their child and the child’s unique pursuits. Sometimes, the child is highly talented in music or the arts and the parents have historically supported the pursuit from a young age. The child may be interested in developing a skill or talent. It may just be a way the child socializes with classmates and friends outside of the classroom. The reasons why a child should or should not participate are unique as each child in the world.

            The next question about approving every extracurricular activity that a child does is another one that depends on the circumstances. We often inquire about how many extracurriculars is a child doing per semester. Having been a mother of children who participated in extracurriculars from marching band, dance, sports, church activities, summer camps, theater, driver’s education, and after school clubs such as chess club or Spanish Club, I understand how busy children’s lives and the intrusion upon family time and homework. But each child who participated in an extracurricular activity, they learned life lessons that could not be learned in a traditional classroom. For instance, those who participated in sports learning how to deal with competition, cheating, and recovering from losing the game. For the children, who participated in activities involving the arts, they learned about the dedication and time it takes to improve a talent, skill or passion. Others just had fun socializing with their friends. Some of the children were able to list their extracurricular activities on college applications.

            Guidelines for approving the activities were often known from the moment the child started participating. There were rules that were set early on and required the child to meet to continue participation when it came time to renew. As far as intruding on family time, it happened but was a sacrifice as a parent I chose to make as I knew the alternative was not the life I wanted for my children. Extracurricular activities kept the children busy and off the streets unsupervised where their own choices lacking experience and wisdom could get them into trouble. From working after school, the children began learning about the importance of a job, managing money and saving for what you want. All the extracurricular activities helped develop the children into who they are today.

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            Whether your child participates in extracurricular activities and which ones is a conversation that you need to have with the other parent and your child. Ask why does the child want to do this activity? Work together to set boundaries for participating. For instance, I required my children to actively participate throughout the duration of the activity or risk the opportunity to do others. When the children were in high school and able to work, I would require contribution toward the cost, especially when I realized that the child may not be appreciative of what it took to participate. The child had the choice to participate again the following season or year. It was not something I mandated to the children outside of completing their commitment, even if they grew to hate it.

            But what worked for my family and children may not work in every family. It needs to be a family discussion and parents need to agree to how many per semester or quarter a child may do. The finances need to be discussed. I know firsthand how expensive dance and acting lessons are and the cost may be prohibitive to some families.

            Speaking of cost that is another conversation to have. How will divorced or unmarried parents share in the cost of the extracurricular activities? Are there opportunities for the parent to volunteer to reduce the financial cost? If so, which parent will volunteer and how will their effort be accounted for?

            If your child wants to do extracurriculars, have a discussion with the child and other parent. Reach agreements on what will and may happen. Determine the limitations. It is easier than filing a motion to have a third party determine what your child can do after school is over.

If you are in a disagreement with your child’s mother or father on participation in extracurricular activities that you cannot resolve on your own, call us today for assistance. We may offer insights you have not thought of or can assist you in presenting your case to the judge.

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