My 6th grade son is begging me to let him play school sports. He is not a strong student and gets Cs with a lot of hard work. I'm afraid if I let him join a team that the time it will take away from his studies will harm him academically. But I also hate for him not to have the opportunity to participate in school activities outside of the classroom. How do we balance both without sacrificing grades and learning? So many of his friends in school are doing both.
After-school activities or extracurricular activities have become such a large portion of children’s and families lives that it is almost a given that someone you just meet will ask you about the sports or other activities in which your child is enrolled. When a parent awkwardly says, “None,” it can result in one or more of several common feelings:
• You may feel embarrassment as you explain that your child needs the time to do well in school. Internally, you may be saying to yourself, “Does this mean my child is not bright? Is he unable to do the work without me? Don’t I care about my child’s social development?”
• It could be perceived as an attack on you, for not having the foresight to realize that activities like these are crucial to your child’s total development.
• It may also feel like you are being preached to or sold a bill of goods when you are told, “Sports teach teamwork, give and take, cooperation, and decision-making. They also help our children be more organized, and this will translate into success in the classroom!” In essence what you are hearing is “Everyone else is doing it, so why aren’t you?”
WHAT TO DO:
You are right to consider this as a major question for your family. You will be forced to leave something behind should you decide to put your child into extra-curricular activities. Some families are comfortable with this trade-off, and some are not.
When I grew up, playing with friends outside was the extracurricular activity of choice. Today, however, this sort of free-range creative play is being replaced with the professionalization of children’s playtime by expecting it to be miniature versions of what are in reality teenage and adult activities. This shift has become so accepted that questioning it makes you the weird one. However, I still think it needs to be questioned as it is of the utmost importance for your son and for the peace in your family. I cannot begin to estimate the number of times I have heard a parent say, “Well, my son is doing poorly in school but I still think he should stay in sports because he feels successful at something.” Unfortunately, many parents are surprised to learn that feelings of success in sports, while nice unto themselves, do not translate to worth in the classroom.
I cannot advise you on whether or not you should allow your child to enter sports right now, because it is a personal decision and needs to fit your family, not mine. What I do know is that to make that decision you must find your answers to certain questions. You cannot depend on other parents about the answers. The only thing they can tell you is what they have chosen to be right for them. This is not necessarily right for you. They do not live in your house, live your reality or bring up your son. All I can offer you are some questions for you to consider to help narrow the choices by looking at what they will require you to sacrifice:
Which sports does your child want to participate in? Ask for three. There may be one you are opposed to just because of safety. For example, you are not willing to consider football but would consider track or baseball. That lets your child know that he has choices. He does not have the opportunity to give the family a mandate.
What is the time commitment for each choice? This sounds like an easy question but for too many families it is not. Get a schedule for practices, games, and tournaments or set a date by which you must have this information. Talk with parents who had children on the team the year before. Ask yourself if you are willing to have your life compromised because of constant changes in schedules. If you are, then your son is in. If you are not, then try another sport.
What are the consequences if due to school obligations or family obligations your child must miss a practice or an event? Remember you are adding this activity to your family with the idea that it will be for good. Your son will feel good about his participation and the family is able to keep up with the time, travel and cost commitment without it becoming a hardship.
Should you pick a sport in which you feel your son and your family will benefit, will your son be able to join on a probationary period? The probation has nothing to do with the team. It has everything to do with your child’s schoolwork. It is very hard to know if you can swim if you never try swimming in water. You send your child to school for an education. He should have at least a month to be on the team before a final decision is made. Many children work better under the pressure of commitment.
Is it worth it? After you have all the information you need, the next thing is who is this decision for? Is it for my son to experience something new, or is this about me, the parent? Is it my ego that needs being lifted by being able to say to others what you want to say?
Please consider the answers to these questions before you act.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER
Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at email@example.com.
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For 30 years, Dr. Yvonne Fournier has been helping children become more successful in school. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework," was published by Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She holds her doctorate in education.