Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Extracurriculars and Teens

Everything we do as a homeschool family is done with our children's input. They are a major navigator. We do not force them to do activities they do not want to do. Well, we have forced them to try something, and they usually found they loved it and chose to continue.

In a recent newspaper article my older son's FIRST Robotics team coach was quoted as saying that participation gives every student a chance to have hands on experience with engineering and computer sciences. He said that being on the team helps 100% of the students do work that will help them in their future college career, of which many select engineering, which leads to a career. He said many participants in high school sports do not go on to be professional athletes and some don't even play a sport in college. I understand and agree. The team offers a fantastic opportunity. While at the World Championships last year, one father said to me, "This is like a sport for the geeks and nerds. They are a real team, a circle of friends, a family. I am so grateful such a thing exists for my son since he didn't find this community or passion in sports or other school clubs."

My older son's sport practice changed this season, with our new head coach and the new team's focus on competitive rowing. The practice changed from 90 minutes last year, (his novice year) to 3+ hours long now that he is varsity. Door to door, it is often four hours. The practices also increased to five days from the previous four days, with a new Saturday practice. Rowing increased to year-round rowing on the water instead of doing weight lifting and erging on machines in the winter.

The increase in rowing time this fall was a direct conflict with the robotics team, who also increased their activity level for "off seaon" events such as doing community service by helping host qualifiers for other FIRST events for younger students. My son has not been able to do robotics this fall.

Soon it will be FIRST Robotics kick-off, usually done in the first week of January. My son was given a team leader job. I honestly do not know how my son can do both things with 100% participation. I feel that team leaders must be present, as does my son. We discussed the obligations and the responsibilties of such a position.

Yesterday my son sent an email to the team captain and the coach saying he feels he does not have time to be a team leader. This is heart-breaking to me but it was the right thing to do. We are not a family that seeks resume building positions which are not actually performed. We do not let our kids take jobs they won't actually do then let the team down with non-involvement.

To be honest, I would prefer that he have hands on experience with engineering and work more with adult engineering mentors to figure out what career path he may select when applying to college. I would like my son to do things that support his career and academics instead of a sport that is so intense. However my son uses his sport as his main social activity. Doing a year-round sport with the same 40 kids, 50 weeks a year is like being part of an extended family. Also now my son has a girlfriend on the team so they get to see each other at practice over 15 hours a week. The girlfriend factor raises things to a different emotional level.

(Most of the other kids on the varsity team do only this sport as their one extra-curricular activity. A couple are also Boy Scouts who rarely attend meetings or campouts. All the rowers are focused on academics, some go to the science magnet school, many take AP courses, and besides the Valedictorian, many are high in the school ranks. A bunch of the kids told my son they don't understand how he can do both robotics and rowing and schoolwork and also Boy Scouts. The fact is, this year he can't seem to handle all of it.)

Unlike Tiger Mom I do not feel it is right for me to dictate every single thing about my teenager's lives including every extra-curricular activity and banning social time with friends. These teen years represent a time for shifting more responsibility to the teen. I think teens have a right to choose their extra-curricular activities. This means that not every choice my son makes would be my preferred choice. I have to learn to deal with it and let go.

If the choice my son was making was to do something stupid or do something negative or to do nothing at all instead of something enriching, my husband and I would protest against it and not allow it. But to choose an intense year round sport over off-season participation in robotics was something we let our son decide.

I am unsure what will happen in the actual robotics season, we will have to see. My son is already expressing anxiety over feeling pressured to do the sport, Boy Scouts, and the robotics team. I am not pressuring him. (He has also only attended two Scout meetings since August to the overlapping schedule.) The team allows members to come as they are able but honestly his time is limited to about a half hour before sports then maybe 90 minutes after sports. He could only do a half day on Saturdays (the busiest longest day).

We'll see how this plays out. I am not pushing.

I am learning to let go and let my son take charge of his choices. It's not easy to let go.

Related Post: What I'd Like For My Older Son's High School Education (posted in 2010)



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