Rethinking Extracurriculars in a Post-Pandemic World

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Our children are coming of age in a world that will be very different from our own. And while every generation can say this, there is a sense that this time is different in the way that the Great Depression or World War II were different for children of those eras.

As the true economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic sinks in for millions of families, it’s likely a significant number of extracurricular clubs and camps will struggle to keep their doors open alongside the local businesses that for so long offered sponsorships and scholarships.

Yet we also see the pandemic as an opportunity to look at these activities through fresh eyes; to remind ourselves why extracurriculars exist in the first place, and how we might correct some of the mistakes made over the previous 20 years.

A Confession

Even before the pandemic, we had our doubts about the growing influence of adult-sanctioned extracurriculars on the lives of children. It’s not that these activities aren’t good for kids – of course they are. Rather, we were increasingly concerned about how their original intent was being distorted by a growing number of adults (parents and volunteers alike).

Why, for example, were so many kids bailing out on youth sports at younger and younger ages (when Kidzu launched the average age a child dropped out was 13; today it’s 11). Why? According to the kids, adults – the coaches and parents on the sidelines – were ruining things for them. Simply put, sports were no longer any fun.

At the same time the nation’s economic ‘haves’ were increasingly pricing out the ‘have nots,’ meaning that a relatively small population of kids were once again enjoying opportunities unavailable to less fortunate kids. In a country today teeming with social unrest, that seems relevant, at least to us.

Perhaps most important, if the extracurriculars (and the huge investments of family time and money required of them) are so good for kids, why were we seeing epidemic rates of childhood depression, anxiety, drug abuse, stress, and suicide? Shouldn’t our kids be happier than ever?

The more we researched these issues, the more we saw a trend: namely, the adult world using extracurriculars as yet another way to fast-forward kids to adult modes of thinking and behaving.

Looking Ahead

Here’s our hope: that adults will reconsider what extracurriculars are all about. Maybe a sports-obsessed dad will be open to his son’s desire to dance or act? Perhaps a mom accustomed to sitting on the sidelines will summon the courage to coach?

Speaking of coaches, perhaps the fundamentals of a sport, team work, sportsmanship, and fun will take precedence over winning? Maybe we’ll be honest with kids about the infinitesimally small chance they’ll play at the collegiate or professional levels, and instead remind them to enjoy the pleasures of childhood while they’re still kids.

Perhaps well-to-do families will contribute as much to extracurricular scholarship funds as they invest in their own children’s activities, or even suggest their kids forego a season so that an under-served child has an opportunity. Maybe parents will volunteer more often and complain on the sidelines less often.

Lastly, maybe mom and dad will allow their kids to be kids – to occasionally skip a season or say no to a structured activity in favor of good old fashioned tromps in the woods, pickup games, and playground imagination.

A lot of young adults are taking to the streets to complain about the state of our world, many of them hailing from homes of privilege where they no doubt participated in extracurriculars.

And huge numbers of young people are struggling with a variety of mental health disorders. Clearly, the adult world has lost its way and, as such, we might use this ‘down time’ to reimagine those same activities when life returns to ‘normal.’ We certainly hope so.

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