Left to their own devices, most kids will quit something the moment it becomes difficult, they are no longer having fun, or a shinier object comes along to distract them. Whether it’s violin lessons, a sport, or Girl Scouts, kids can be quick to quit.
Which begs the question: when should parents intervene? After all, quitting isn’t always a bad thing. As career counselor and Quistic founder Penelope Trunk points out, allowing kids to make the decision to quit for the right reasons is an important step in the process of growing up and finding their own way. And in recent years, a lot of scorn has been heaped on the “tiger parent” mentality of over-scheduling and ultimately over-stressing kids.
On the flip side of that equation, however, is the equally important need for kids to learn to overcome obstacles and challenges, to develop inner resolve, and to see things through even when they become difficult. This can be especially true with extracurricular activities, where the benefits are so numerous that to allow a child simply to quit can create long-lasting consequences.
So what are the reasons kids quit clubs and when should parents intervene? Obviously, every child and situation should be treated on a case-by-case basis, but after researching numerous studies and reports on the subject, we’ve discovered some commonalities on this issue.
1. NOT FUN
Sports, band, theatre, chess club, and other extracurriculars are supposed to be fun for kids. Sometimes, however, the fun comes to an end. Your child’s body changes and is no longer adept for a particular sport; he no longer feels challenged or inspired by the activity; she has developed an interest in a different sport or pursuit. These are all perfectly legitimate reasons to change course and parents would be wise to allow their children to make the switch.
Remember too, however, that kids lack the linguistic skills to fully explain how they feel sometimes, and “no fun” can be a mask for a different issue. Dig a bit to ensure your child isn’t quitting simply because the going has gotten a bit tougher. Otherwise your child runs the very real risk of developing a quitter’s mentality, mistakenly believing that challenges are to be avoided instead of faced and overcome.
Extracurricular activities are great for kids precisely because they move them away from the television and video games and into mentally and physically challenging activities. But at some point your child may announce she or he is no longer interested in that particular activity.
Kids’ brains grow exceptionally fast and after a few seasons or years at something they’ll often pine to take on something new. This is one of the most legitimate reasons a child can cite for quitting a sport or club. By listening and respecting your child’s rationale, you will help him or her develop necessary confidence in future decision making processes. The easy litmus test here is whether your child truly switches gears to a new pursuit or ends up lolling on the couch watching TV.
3. TIME PRESSURES
As kids grow older, school becomes more challenging and it’s not always easy juggling multiple tasks. This is particularly true by middle school and certainly by high school.
If your child feels stressed for time, encourage her to start keeping a calendar and jotting down her activities. It’s possible this is nothing more than a time management issue and a terrific chance to learn something new. Alternatively, your child may truly be maxed-out on commitments and need to scale back some of her activities.
4. POOR COACHING/MANAGING
Virtually all extracurricular activities and clubs depend on volunteers, many of whom often have no real skills in the particular activity other than the good intention to help. As kids age and the complexity of the activity or its competitive nature intensifies, kids often discover a host of ‘management’ issues.
Again, this can either be another important life lesson (hint, hint: how to deal with a bad boss) or a genuine reason to call it a day and head into a new activity. What’s most important here is whether or not your child is still enjoying the club and/or activity itself. If the answer is ‘yes,’ then it is time to talk to the volunteer or club management about augmenting things for improved direction, coaching, etc. Just be prepared to be asked if you, yourself, can volunteer some time.
Coaches and club managers face the unenviable task of teaching kids, keeping them motivated, making an activity enjoyable, all while also producing a ‘strong product.’ And by that we mean a winning team, a strong marching band, a solid acting troupe, and so on. Which helps explain why these adult volunteers often begin playing favorites with their stronger participants if only because they make the volunteer’s job easier (and yes, there are less honorable motivations lurking behind favoritism as well).
This is one place where direct parental involvement with the coach or manager is advised, especially if you genuinely believe your child is being overlooked or given short-shrift relative to the other participants. Often this can be ironed out with a brief conversation (coaches, for example, regularly express frustration in trying to get all their kids sufficient playing time, for example, and could use a second volunteer to help – so again, be prepared to volunteer).
If the adult volunteer is not willing to consider your request, however, escalate your concerns to club management. Far too many organizations struggle with poor coaches and managers and need parental input on such issues.
6. OBSESSION WITH ‘WINNING’
This one ties in mostly with sports, although many an adult volunteer has also become obsessed with succeeding at far less competitive activities. In our opinion, this one is the least excusable because, hey, we’re talking about kids here. Organizations that use volunteer coaches, managers, and administrators who focus almost exclusively on winning should be avoided at all costs. Today there are numerous alternatives available to parents and their kids and, in the event you can’t find one, why not volunteer yourself?
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