Our RSS FeedFollow us on TwitterLike us on Facebook


HOME » Information For » Balancing Activities With Academics

Balancing Activities With Academics

Posted on 10/18/2019, by Dr. Ellen Fithian to Parents of 7th and 8th Graders, Parents of 9th Graders, Parents of 10th Graders, Parents of 11th Graders, Parents of 12th Graders (0 comments)

The first interim report cards of the year went home within the past couple of weeks, bringing pride and joy into some homes - and angst into others.

A disappointing report card provides the impetus for many a heart-to-heart conversation between parents and teens, beginning with questions about the teen’s performance in each course. Is she turning in work on time – or at all, does she understand the material, has she met with the teacher to ask for help, does she need a tutor?  Beyond these purely academic concerns, however, a question I’m often asked by parents in this situation is whether a student should be required to drop one or more extracurricular activities to allow her to focus more on school work.

To answer this question, I suggest starting with a thorough evaluation of your teen's time commitments. Students who are involved in multiple activities may have hours of meetings and practices every day of the week, leaving little to no time - or energy - for school work. In this case, something has to go, but what?

Which Activities Should Be Cut?

At first blush, the obvious candidate may be the activity that requires the most time.  Take the case of Monica, a ninth grader who used to be a solid B student but whose grades have slipped to mostly Cs.  As a year round swimmer, she has swim practices before and after school and travels frequently to weekend meets. Dropping swimming would provide her with hours of extra time for sleeping and studying, in addition to liberating Mom from the 5 A.M. swim practice carpool. Is it the right thing to do? Before pulling the plug, there are two questions that need to be asked:

1. How important is it to her sense of self?

At a holiday party one year, a mother began telling me about her daughter, a sophomore who was struggling in several subjects. The mother lamented the daughter’s frustration as one after another intervention failed to improve her academic performance.  Hoping to turn the conversation to a more positive note, I asked about the girl’s extracurricular interests. The mother’s face immediately brightened as she recounted her daughter’s success as a cheerleader; her work ethic, leadership qualities, and the many awards she’d received in state level competitions. Suddenly I was picturing an entirely different girl. Had she asked me then whether her daughter should forego cheerleading to devote more time to studying, I would have had to answer that I could hardly imagine a scenario in which it would be beneficial to this girl to give up the thing she most excelled at. We all want to be defined by our strengths, not our weaknesses, so if an activity is important to a teen’s sense of self, I’d make every possible effort not to take it away.

2. How much does she enjoy it?

Spending two to three hours every day playing soccer, lacrosse, or just about any vigorous physical activity, would be my personal purgatory. Yet many students who are serious athletes have told me that they get better grades during their varsity season than in their off season. They explain that their team practices relieve stress and energize them. These kinds of positive effects are not limited to athletics; many students experience them from participating in the visual or performing arts, student government, or just about any activity you could name. So in thinking about whether your daughter should pass up the opportunity to direct the spring play, ask yourself and her whether she comes home from play practices tired - or relaxed and invigorated. 

Bottom line - Talk to your teen to determine which activities are most important and which contribute to his overall well-being. To make more time for studying, prune one or more of the miscellaneous activities that are cluttering his schedule without adding significant benefit.

Finally, before making final decisions about extracurricular activities, educate yourself about the role they play in college admissions - and be aware that it's changed since you were a high school senior. If your teen is aspiring to a top college - or hoping to earn scholarship money - her accomplishments outside the classroom may play a critical role in her success. To learn what colleges are looking for and why they care about activities, I urge you to read the article Extracurricular Activities article in the Guide section of this website.

Share & Print

  • Print
  • Email

Posted on 10/18/2019, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)




No comments yet... be the first to leave one.


Post a comment:

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.