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Children & Teens Article
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The Teen Years: Setting Limitlessness

By T. Bondavalli

Remember snuggling with your newborn baby while some cynic sneered, "Just wait until he's old enough to get a driver's license?” The teen years loom like a bad weather report, the unfair payoff for all your love and dedication. The job of protecting your child never seems more difficult. The scary yet exciting thing is that your child will start to spread his own wings and find his own way in the world.

It feels like you're losing control. You're supposed to be. You're not tossing them out into the big bad world. You're watching in wonder, as they become something you never anticipated. There are things you can do to guide your child through these tricky confusing times — just try not to leave your fingerprints.

Teens have a lot of energy and a strong desire to explore. That's not a bad thing, unless they feel that their options are too limited. Exploring the mall, other teenagers' bodies and drugs are only a few of the millions of things they might consider. Setting boundaries and making rules while giving them the freedom to discover who they are is tough but necessary with teens. In harmony with that, your best bet is to open up more and more opportunities to them. It will keep them from being fixated on the few things they're not allowed to do.

Rachel Hollrah did a study that shows that getting students involved in extracurricular activities teaches them character-building lessons and social skills. They tend to receive better grades than those who are not involved in extracurricular activities. Students in extracurricular and co-curricular activities gain self-respect, self-esteem and self-confidence. Extracurricular activities give them pride in their accomplishments, and they learn that if an activity is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

The number of extracurricular, co-curricular, volunteer and other activities today is truly mind-blowing. We’ve come a long way since 4-H and Future Farmers of America. Even athletics are not limited to the old standards like football, basketball and baseball. There are sports, clubs and group activities for a myriad of interests. For example, theatre draws not only kids who like to perform but kids interested in sound and lighting technology, set construction, costume design, publicity, directing and much more.

It is a wonderful opportunity to learn to work with different people for one goal. If your local high school's choices are limited, find out if your teen shares an interest with other students. They can start their own club and probably get support from the school. Also, there are most likely other opportunities in your community such as park district and volunteer possibilities.

Be careful not to push your kids into things you wish you had done when you were a kid. Their interests probably won't be something that you thought of. Heck, it might be something you've never even heard of. Roseanne Cash remembered her father, Johnny Cash, walking in on her reading an astrology book when she was a teenager. When she asked him, "You don't believe in this, do you?", he said, "No, but I think you should find out everything you can about it." Letting teens get out and discover what interests them or just supporting them in what does is the strongest antidote to rebellion.

Getting involved in these activities will not only keep your teen out of trouble but also help him or her explore different interests, including career possibilities. If you try to suppress or contain a teenager's energy, it will likely take on volcanic qualities. Channeling the energy is the key.

Being supportive doesn't necessarily mean going to all the games or reading up on the latest developments in teen fads. Part of the excitement of teens finding their interests is that they can explore outside of their familial range. They're "doing their own thing." Stand back and admire. Let them proudly invite you to their events and listen to their stories.

It is important to teach your child dedication, persistence and commitment, but maybe not at first. They need a chance to try different things to see what fits. It might be hard to understand why they want to quit a certain activity. Be open-minded. This is their chance to dabble in many different things. They're not locked into a major or a career yet. Let them explore.

Getting involved with multiple activities helps teens learn to manage their time. This alone is a huge feat that will come in handy for the rest of their lives.

If your teen is shy, finding her own group with similar interests is a great way to draw her out of her shell.

If your child is very outgoing, these activities can channel his energies into things besides partying and goofing around.

Remember, the trickiest part is encouraging teens without shoving them. Be subtle. Don't say things like, "Getting involved in extracurricular activities will greatly improve your chances of getting into a good college." In fact, don't use the word "extracurricular." It sounds geeky. Mention that you or an activity bus are available to take your teen home later if they are interested in staying after school. Gently draw their attention to the many options they have. For the most part, step back and see where they are drawn.

Cash, Roseanne. 2004. "Foreward." In Cash, ed. Jason Fine. New York: Crown Publishers (p. 13) ISBN: 140005480X

Hollrah, Rachel. (Accessed January 20, 2006) "Extracurricular Activities"


Community Service Adventures

Service Learning Opportunities

High School Theater Resources

National Federation of State High School Associations; a national organization for high school athletics

© T. Bondavalli

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