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May 9, 2014
Posted 05/09/2014 02:50PM

Dear Parents,

Considerable debate exists among parents with regard to extra-curricular involvement for their 10-14 year old children.   In fact, just a few days ago it was the topic of the “Room for Debate” feature in the New York Times. The emotion and misgivings around this matter can really throw a parent and a family for a loop. 

Questions about “what’s best” and “what’s reasonable” with regard to number of commitments, how those commitments are chosen and by whom, and even whether or not it’s okay to allow kids to renege on commitments are abundant. Some families believe their daughters ought to try lots of different things, but stop if it’s not enjoyable, while others feel this encourages girls to become quitters. There are disagreements regarding parents who force particular activities because they have “the long view” as to what’s best, as opposed to parents who permit these decisions to lie solely with the child.  There is that school of thought that parents ought to be making every opportunity possible for their daughters, cost and time required notwithstanding, and the opposing viewpoint, that more is not better, especially if it means sacrifices to the family budget or exhausting demands placed upon the parent.

With the level of intensity in athletic and artistic pursuits ramping up at younger ages all the time, I hear parents worry about burnout, over-specialization, stress, and vulnerability to injury.  I am not a big worrier, but these matters do, indeed, warrant concern. As my dad used to say to me, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.”  Sometimes, more is too much.

Sadly, as is the case with most questions of parenting, a correct answer eludes us…because there isn’t one. Different girls, different ages, different families, different priorities and values and passions and hopes – all of these variables impact decisions with respect to extracurricular commitments. If there is wisdom to be offered here, it is simply that these be decisions be exactly that: decisions, made deliberately.

Continuing to engage in an activity because one has engaged previously, or sticking to a commitment when the joy has evaporated, or signing up for one more thing when the cost (in dollars, time, energy, health, etc.) is too high means, essentially, deciding not to decide. I am a big proponent of considered, intentional choice-making.  Asking, from time to time, “Why are we doing this? Why are we not doing that?” is good role-modeling; it promotes practice in reflection, self-evaluation, goal-setting and prioritizing. Best of all, one doesn’t have to join a league or get out of bed early on a Saturday morning to participate in this endeavor! 


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