The Teenage Mind

The internal experience of the young adult

Starting High School

Extracurricular activities provide friends and confidence

Starting high school is a time of excitement and worry. It is a time of increased expectations. For some it means pressure to get good grades, test scores, and plan for college. For some it means a bigger school, new people, and increased social expectations. For all, it means change.

One way to think about adolescent development is in terms of developmental tasks. A term originally coined by Conger, developmental tasks are age appropriate, social expectations required to make the transition from childhood to adulthood. Developmental tasks vary from culture to culture and from time to time but some of them are universal. They include: achieving independence from parents, adjusting to sexual maturation, maintaining cooperative relationships with peers, selecting and preparing for a vocation, and developing a sense of identity. When you stop to think about it, there is more rapid physical and psychological change taking place during adolescence than at any other stage in life.

Extracurricular activities are the key to a smooth high school transition and an avenue to increased independence. Some sports, like water polo, start the summer before high school. These teens start high school and already have a friendship circle and a sport. Community service activities, like Habitat for Humanity, teach good values and new skills. Teens learn to build houses, swing a hammer, and help others. This is very gratifying. The Sierra Club gives teens the chance to get outside, to hike, explore nature, and protect the environment. Clubs offer leadership roles, adult contacts, and new skills. They provide older students as role models and build confidence. Participation looks good on college applications. Music, photography and art stimulate creativity and provide lifelong hobbies.

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High school provides adolescents with many opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. All of them provide some type of benefit whether it is physical fitness, team camaraderie, community service or protecting the environment. Teenagers learn new skills, work cooperatively and make friends. Some learn vocational skills, build resumes, and find jobs. But, the bottom line is that it is extracurricular activities, or the activities outside the classroom, is where teens make their friends. This is where they spend their leisure time. Extracurricular activities are important. They provide friends and outside interests that ease the adjustment to high school.

Jann Gumbiner, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine College of Medicine.

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