Many high schools, colleges and universities emphasize their goals of producing well-rounded students. Extracurricular activities teach students important life lessons, provide them opportunities to socialize and often stimulate their minds and bodies in ways that differ from the stimulation provided in the classroom.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau states that, in 2014, 57 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 17 participate in at least one after-school extracurricular activity. Children are more likely to participate in sports than clubs or lessons, such as music, dance and language, but each of these activities can be beneficial to students’ development.
Students who participate in extracurricular activities may want to limit their participation to 20 hours per week. This is according to a group of professors from Stanford University and Villanova University who have been collecting data on the issue since 2007.
In their report “Extracurricular Activity in High-Performing School Contexts: Stress Buster, Booster or Buffer?”, Jerusha Conner and Sarah Miles found that 87 percent of kids who would be considered to have packed schedules were perfectly happy unless they were doing more than four hours a day.
The “over-scheduling hypothesis” may be overhyped. This is the concern that too much organized activity participation leads to poor developmental outcomes. This hypothesis also suggests that hectic schedules also undermine family functioning, detract from schoolwork and possibly increase the risk of copycat behaviors and excessive competitiveness.
However, in the study “The Over-Scheduling Hypothesis Revisited: Intensity of Organized Activity Participation During Adolescence and Young Adult Outcomes,” researchers J.L. Mahoney and Andrea Vest determined that, controlling for demographic factors and baseline adjustment, extracurricular intensity was a significant predictor of positive outcomes and unrelated to indicators of problematic adjustment (e.g., psychological distress, substance use, antisocial behavior) at young adulthood.
Even though extracurricular activities are largely positive — even when schedules are packed — parents need to be aware of the diminishing returns of too many activities. This is something called the “threshold effect.” Benefits from extracurriculars can level off when too many activities are being juggled.
If a child is experiencing anxiety, sleeplessness or depression, or seems overly stressed, it could be time to reduce students’ time spent doing structured activities. It’s essential that families use the cues given by kids to assess what students can handle. And children should be encouraged to be honest with their parents about their extracurricular activities as well.