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Overscheduled Children And Adolescents

March 31, 2011

Researchers examine ‘threshold effect’ of extracurricular involvement

Popular books and media reports have perpetuated the belief that children and adolescents are overscheduled in their extracurricular activities, and that this can disrupt how families function and undermine young people’s opportunities for success. Although there is little empirical research to support this idea, some studies suggest a threshold effect in which the benefits of involvement stabilize or drop slightly after a certain point. But we know little about who becomes involved in extracurricular activities to this extent, what happens at such high levels of involvement, and whether patterns differ for different groups of children and adolescents.

Between 70 and 83 percent of American children and teens say they take part in at least one extracurricular activity. On average, children and adolescents spend about five to nine hours a week in structured activities; few (5 to 7 percent) spend more than 20 hours a week in these pursuits.

Some studies have shown that youths who take part in extracurriculars at high levels don’t do as well academically and psychologically. They tend to be more depressed and lonely, and to engage in more risky behavior, and they’re more likely to smoke or take drugs.

The Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) will host a symposium during its Biennial Meeting that tackles questions about the effects of extracurricular activities on children and adolescents. Among the questions that will be addressed:

    * What individual and contextual characteristics predict children’s and teens’ involvement in extracurricular activities below the threshold and above that level?
    * How do highly involved children differ from others in terms of levels of extracurricular involvement, behavior problems, and academic achievement during adolescence?
    * Does the threshold effect apply to boys and girls in the same way?
    * Does the threshold effect apply to adolescents of different socioeconomic levels in the same way?
    * How does the number of extracurricular activities in adolescence relate to academic achievement and educational status over time?

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