The Importance of Extracurriculars


A lesser-known and yet still important Jewish value is to maximize one’s potential. Through the Torah, and enshrined in halakha, each Jew receives a roadmap to improve. Moreover, everyone is made in the image of God and therefore has something to offer the world. Even recently, it was common to pursue these talents through serious extracurricular activities. More often than not, young people would even go beyond a school club to take their talent to the next level, such as studying in a conservatory or starting their own business.

A frequently cited claim against extracurriculars is that it puts too much stress on children, leading to mental health complications. Denise Pope, a lecturer at the Stanford School of Education, exemplifies this view, arguing that structured activities are bad and that kids need “downtime.” However, after some consideration, it is clear that this child-rearing philosophy is directly related to “failure to launch syndrome.”

Failure to launch syndrome, according to the Optimum Performance Institute, is when someone is unable to successfully transition to adulthood. Such a young adult is not able to live independently or support themselves. This trend is embodied by the growing number of children returning to live with their parents. According to Prudential Financial, over half of young adults aged eighteen and over in the United States live with their parents..

Uncoincidentally, this rise in cases of failure to launch syndrome has been happening at the same time as the rise of the modern parenting strategy of not putting any pressure on children. The link between low-stress early childhood parenting and the failure to cope with adult life happens because one’s childhood is their most formative years. During childhood, people develop the habits that shape them for the rest of their lives. If one never learns how to seriously pursue anything, even in a youthful, low-pressure setting, then they will certainly have a much harder time doing so in adulthood.

If advocates of kids, particularly affluent children, growing up with no pressure or obligatory extracurriculars, believe that children in wealthier neighborhoods have a lower risk of getting caught up in illegal activities during their downtime, it is simply not true. According to the Scottsdale Recovery Center, a prominent rehab facility in Arizona, people from comfortable backgrounds often have more money at their disposal, and can therefore more easily buy drugs and other vices.

Since the late 1990s, Arizona University professor Suniya Luthar has routinely conducted studies comparing psychological risks in high-income and lower- income teenagers. Each study yields similar results: teenagers from high- income families are more likely to experience substance abuse, anxiety, and depression than their lower-income peers. This often happens due to the pressure they feel to succeed and follow in their parents’ footsteps. Both mental health and substance abuse are common factors in failure to launch syndrome.

If a child has a talent, then they should be encouraged to pursue it to the fullest. By doing so, they not only maximize their potential, but also avoid falling into dangerous situations. They learn important skills that can later be applied throughout all fields and seasons of life. Most importantly, by encouraging children to pursue serious extracurricular activities, there will be fewer people experiencing a failure to launch.

This is crucial for our society, because if we don’t have an independent society, full of leaders who are accustomed to dealing with adversity, then the ideals our society was built upon will cease to exist. Slowly over time, they will be lost and forgotten. This is particularly important for Jews. In fact, one of the reasons Judaism has managed to survive throughout the centuries is because of the many strong Jewish leaders who have risen up throughout the generations, both because of our values and out of necessity. Incentivizing children to function independently will be key to forming emerging leaders and generations that are self-sufficient and capable again.

Mr. Ari Unger is a rising junior at Manhattan Talmudic Academy. He resides in Riverdale, New York.

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