By Linda Wolff
Regrets, I’ve had a few. There were many childhood activities I eventually let go, but the one I’m most sorry I didn’t stick with is dance. My weekly ballet classes, punctuated by Saturday morning dance-a-thons in front of a mirror while watching “Soul Train,” were the highlight of my week.
Now, I wistfully watch graceful dancers perform and wish I had stuck with the dance lessons instead of dropping them when they felt like a burden that cramped my social life.
High School Extracurriculars Don’t Have to End
Early morning and late afternoon practices shape the lives of many families and govern their calendars. But here’s the irony: By the time they get to college, some students feel burned out by the very passion that may have helped them gain admission. They donate their dance shoes, stash the trumpet in the closet, or ditch the sport that once dominated every spring or fall weekend.
What to do when your child has poured blood, sweat, and tears—not to mention your hard-earned dollars—into an activity, only to think of abandoning it? There are some good ways that they can continue nurturing their passion. They don’t have to give it up completely.
“You can still pursue what you love in college even if you decide you want to try other things,” says Cecilia Castellano, vice provost for strategic enrollment planning at Bowling Green State University. “Often, after years of pressure, students feel a need to find other ways to get involved at a much lower level of commitment.”
To dial it down—but stay involved—Castellano advises taking college courses related to the teen’s passion, joining clubs, or trying intramural sports.
“My daughter participated in many things in middle school, but fell in love with color guard in high school,” says DC Stanfa. Stanfa’s daughter continued on with color guard through college. Now at 25 and working as a teacher, she still makes time to coach a high school color guard team. “It became a lifelong passion for her,” says Stanfa.
Time to Try Something New?
Colleges offer myriad opportunities for interested students, which can make those years a logical time to try new things. But continuing with a beloved activity or sport can ease the transition to a new school. It can help students feel more instantly connected. It’s also a great way to meet kids with similar interests.
“Students can take tremendous comfort in staying connected to familiar activities and interests, given that there is so much uncertainty baked into the transition to college,” says Lisa Damour, psychologist and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood.
In this way, a childhood passion can offer continuing stability. “When college students are living in a new place, meeting all new people, and pursuing new interests, they can welcome the long-known rhythms of playing their instrument, practicing the same soccer drills they learned in high school, or refining their long-developed skills as a dancer,” says Damour.
Keep an Open Mind
And if that activity no longer appeals, or isn’t available on campus? “There are ways to remain involved if you keep an open mind,” says Castellano.
Perhaps instead of playing their instrument, your student may want to learn to sing or explore musical theater instead.
“Students who don’t find what they are looking for might join classmates with similar interests to develop a new club or program,” adds Damour.
While I regretted giving up dance, we all know that sometimes it’s the parent who misses the activity, not the child. So, if your child is truly ready to hang up their cleats, don’t pout. Gently encourage them to find other ways to nourish what they once loved about their activity, and cheer them on when they try something new. That’s what college is all about.
Linda Wolff writes the parenting and lifestyle blog Carpool Goddess, where she blazes the trail from teen years to empty nest proving that midlife and motherhood aren’t so scary.