Does My Child in Recovery Need an Extracurricular Activity?

As a tween, life can feel like a whirlwind of confusion, excitement, and intensity. This stage of their existence is like a turning point in the road that leads to a chapter full of new responsibilities and opportunities. Kids are sorting out their personalities and learning about what kinds of friends they want to have. Although school plays a large role in their development, as that is where they spend most of their time, extracurricular activities can be really important too. It allows youth to relax, play, and bond with others that have similar interests. While most young adults would likely benefit from after-school activities, those who are going through recovery might find engagement particularly valuable to incorporate alongside their weekly therapy sessions.

Your Child’s Character and Social Development

Getting involved in after-school activities can enable your child to learn more about themselves and build their unique character. It can create structure and routine in daily life and help kids develop the discipline needed to be successful in their recovery. Research supports the value of extracurricular activities by demonstrating that levels of self-esteem and self-worth are higher in students who participate. A healthy self-image and strong identity can act as a key motivating factor for kids to keep pushing towards personal development and avoid substances that can derail them. Opportunities also arise for children to identify their strengths and weaknesses, manage criticisms, and learn how to be resilient. Participation allows them to think deeply about what matters to them and how they want to spend their time. They can set goals and determine how they will go about accomplishing them. For children in recovery, the process of character development is crucial.

Extracurriculars also provide a great opportunity to build healthy social skills. “Pro-social activities,” as they are sometimes called, allow children to connect with peers outside of their recovery groups, forming friendships with kids from other backgrounds that might have new perspectives or life experiences. Your child may also become acquainted with peer groups that are focused on healthy and productive recreation. These are the moments where your child can improve their communication skills and learn how to work effectively in a team, both essential skills to maintain relationships.

Taking part in clubs and sports teams can be fun and relaxing, filling your child with a new sense of joy.  Because they don’t involve the use of substances, though, an important point should be made here. Substances can alter chemicals in the brain – like dopamine and serotonin – that evoke pleasure, making it much harder to enjoy the interactions and activities described here. If you notice your child struggling in this way, don’t worry too much; it can take some time and practice during recovery to feel satisfaction and contentment again.

Type of Activity Matters 

Research shows that the kind of activity a child engages in can impact different aspects of character and social development. For example, academic clubs tend to build leadership skills, while athletic clubs develop problem-solving skills. Participation in both can result in higher levels of self-worth. Positive self-development has also been found to be associated with participation in the performing arts.

Other research similarly reports that joining a sports team or club outside of school can be promising. Researchers in a 2003 study surveyed 6,522 students ages 10-14 to understand how involvement in extracurricular activities might reduce their chances of trying cigarettes and/or alcohol. The researchers found that “team sport participation with a coach was… associated with lower risk of trying smoking compared to none or minimal participation.” Participation in other clubs (i.e., Boys or Girl Scouts) was likewise associated with a lower chance of trying drinking.

Therefore, it might be a good idea to have your child spend some time brainstorming about what interests them most and how the particular activity could benefit them. Here are some hobbies you could encourage your child to pick up that involve interacting with others:

  • Sports teams
  • Community service
  • Part-time employment
  • The arts (i.e., dance, theatre, music, cooking/baking)
  • Educational clubs (i.e., STEM, student government)

Tips for Fostering Support 

These practices can help steer your child away from the temptations of drugs and alcohol; however, they need your backup. Being patient can allow your child the time to find what works for them. Every kid is different, though. It might also take some trial and error for them to figure out what they want to commit to. Another tip is to be supportive when your child expresses an ambition. They are more likely to reject drugs or alcohol when it gets in the way of something they are eager about and have a passion for. When your child gets home, ask them ‘‘how?’’ and “why?” questions that get them thinking more deeply about who they are. It also shows that you have genuine interest in how they feel. This creates a sense of security and identity, allowing your child to more readily reject peer pressure.

The tweenage years can be exciting but daunting as new developments seem to pop up at every corner. Extracurricular activities can be grounding and provide a balance between school, family, and the trials and tribulations that youth experience daily. With the added weight of going through recovery, kids might find that interactive hobbies can provide opportunities to meet new friends, develop self-esteem and discipline, and re-learn how to enjoy life without substances. Research supports this and shows that certain activities can develop particular social skills and aspects of character. At Sustain Recovery, we understand that youth in recovery require support that is structured but also uplifting and nurturing. Your child deserves the highest quality of care, and that is what we strive to provide. Located in Irvine, CA, Sustain Recovery offers three levels of care that vary based on the severity of the condition. Please call Sustain Recovery to find out how our clinicians can help your child today: (949) 407-9052.