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How to Help Your Child Balance Academics and Extracurricular Activities

For college-bound students simply having good grades is not enough. Colleges look for students who can not only perform academically, but also succeed outside the classroom. “It’s different from when we were students,” points out Ryan Hinton, the principal of East Catholic High School. “We were told to be at the top of our class academically and all doors would open to us. That’s no longer the case. Parents and students are told that students need to build out their college resumes with sports, extracurricular activities, and volunteerism outside the school.”

While these activities do broaden students beyond the academic arena, Hinton says they have their downside. “These demands on students’ time narrow their ability to get things done. There’s a smaller percentage of time available to go around, and it can be stressful for students trying to balance it all. Time management becomes a critical survival skill.”

How can parents help their college-bound children to balance all these competing demands? Hinton offers these tips:

Don’t do it all – “What I tell students is that they shouldn’t get involved in every club under the sun,” he advises. “I tell them to pick one that has to do with their passion. And not to select it just because they think it’s a pathway into college. When we are passionate about what we do, we will always find the time to do it. Just think about social media. You’ll notice your children somehow find the time for it because it’s something they want to be involved in.”

Encourage your child to find their passion – “Have a dialogue to find out what your child is passionate about,” advises Hinton. “Help your child indulge those passions with activities that support them, even if it looks like they are not a direct fit. For example, we have a First Robotics Club. But students who are not interested in programming are part of it. Yes, some want to build robots. But others want to promote the club or handle the business aspect of it. Encourage your child to find ways to plug into what’s available in your school and your community.”

Suggest an extracurricular activity that bolsters an academic area – Extracurricular activities can bolster a student’s abilities in areas where they may not feel strong. For example, perhaps your child doesn’t feel comfortable speaking in class. You might suggest they get involved with the debate club or do mock trial. Sometimes the competitive aspect of these activities encourages students to reach beyond outside their comfort zone. “Look at extracurricular activities that enhance and support academics outside the classroom,” Hinton suggests.

Support your child to become well-rounded – “The goal here is not to become too focused on building the college resume, but to aim at supporting your children to become well-rounded people,” Hinton advises. “I worry that today’s environment is creating activity-obese students. By that, I mean students who just keep layering on activities with no ‘emotional nutritional value.’ Don’t push them to be involved in so many activities simply for the college resume.”

Include family time in the mix – “If the only time you’re spending with your child is in the car taking them to from one activity to another, that makes it tougher for both of you to find balance,” says Hinton. “A lot of times you’ll hear parents talk about being ‘Shuttle Moms or Dads.’ It’s a reality because we want our kids to be involved. But it also means we’re limiting social interaction with them at home. The family dinner has been replaced by picking up the kids and taking them to the next activity. Without that family time, we’re not giving them a chance for any kind of balance in their lives. Nor are we role modeling if the only time they see us is when we’re taking them to another activity.”

Decide what you are willing to commit to support them – Many extracurricular activities require parental support as well as time on the part of the student. Ask yourself what level of support you are willing to devote. Are you willing to go to every practice, every away game, every performance or rehearsal? Those decisions tell your children what you think is important. They speak to your support of who they are. Yes, it does take time away from you but the parental capital is priceless. You showed up. You were there. You supported them. You made it a point to ask about the game; the debate; the practice. And, by the way, it also gives you something to talk about with your child.”

Model balance in your own life - “What does your behavior as a parent say to your children about balancing the demands of your life?” asks Hinton. “Are you modeling that for them? That’s the challenge for all adults. It does take a village to show our children the way. It’s imperative that parents demonstrate how they are balancing the various roles and demands in their lives. In my role as the principal, I’m keenly aware of that. If the only time my students see me is when we’re doing a discipline investigation, that’s all they’ll think of me. I need to make sure they see me in a variety of roles. So I make it a point to show up at the robotics competitions and the football games and the concerts. I suggest to parents that they do the same – make sure your children see you in a variety of roles so they begin to understand that you, too, are balancing all of them. And make sure one of those roles is taking time for yourself.”

“During the high school years, you don’t want to create an activity-obese student. This does not lead to a balanced life,” concludes Hinton. “You want to create a well-rounded student; someone who is passionate about their activities and knows how to make time for the things they think of as important. It’s not about getting students in a place where they are doing things to do more things. It’s about doing things with purpose, improving their self-image with success, and making the time to engage in activities that are important to them. That’s the kind of lesson that lasts way beyond high school.”