"So what does your schedule look like this year?"
"I don't know."
"What electives are you taking?"
"(Mumbles) something about art or computers."
"Aren't you excited about school starting?"
Eye roll and swift exit
If this exchange seems the least bit familiar you have a tween or teenager in your life. Sorry to say back to school for this age group can be a bummer. School interrupts their couch marathon of reruns, and much beloved sleep in time. Its not that they are lazy, it is simply that it is no longer the highlight of their year to find out which teachers they will have for the next nine months. Teens are more interested in who is in their lunch break than anything else. Do not despair! That is where extracurricular activities come into play- aka "the antidote to apathy."
Belonging to something stirs enthusiasm in even the most introverted teenager. Many schools have music, theater, and sports programs that allow for every ability level. I have worked with health restricted teens that could not participate in playing sports but found a way to be in charge of equipment and still got included in game day (and the all important social part of games). There are language clubs, science clubs, politically affiliated clubs, you name it. They are school endorsed and therefore have a teacher connected to organize the meetings and events. With encouragement from you, involvement in a school related activity can sweeten the mood about school. Friendship, leadership opportunities, and resume building are just a highlight of the perks associated with school involvement.
If your teenager is resistent to a school endorsed activity, look to the community for activities. The traditional standbys of fine arts and sports are always available but don't forget volunteer organizations. Service to others sparks empowerment in teens. Be prepared to get into the trenches with your teen to help them participate in non-school related things. It is a great opportunity for you to do something together and makes initiating a new activity less awkward for the self-conscious young person.
I have worked with Valedictorians that expressed regret over valuing achievement over involvement. Every kid at college is pretty smart- they struggled to find a way to connect socially or stand out aside from grades. College admissions look for extracurricular involvement as well as grades when they are considering what impact a student will have on campus life. Building a resume of true interests is an important goal by the end of the high school experience. Start early to develop those interests in your teenager.
What if they refuse to do either school or community activities? This is where your parental boundaries are important. In addition to the perks I have already highlighted -research backs me up on decreased drop out, improved grades, and less depression for students who are involved in SOMETHING outside of curriculum of middle school and high school. Kids don't always understand the big picture of what they need versus what they want- but you have some wisdom to offer. Make involvement non-negotiable in the life of your teenager.
It's a great way to get them off the couch!
Want to inspire others? What activities did you or your teenager discover in middle or high school?