Kids Need More Than Sports for Positive Growth

Engaging in youth development programs produces caring, competent teens, research finds

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 2, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- If you want your children to flourish, get them involved in extracurricular activities other than sports, new research suggests.

Children in fifth, sixth and seventh grades who took part in both sports and after-school activities such as Boys & Girls Clubs, 4-H or Scouts had the highest scores for "positive development" and the lowest scores for risky and problem behavior, according to a study from Tufts University, published recently in Developmental Psychology.

"Positive development" includes measures of competence, confidence, character, connection and caring, the study authors explained.

About 60 percent of U.S. children participate in at least one sport, making sports the most common after-school activity, according to information in a news release from Tufts.

Although a large body of research suggests that sports participation is associated with psychological well-being, positive social development and higher academic and professional achievement, some research has shown that participation in sports may be linked to some risky behaviors.

The new study, which looked at data on 1,357 adolescents who took part in the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development, found that those students who only took part in sports had lower scores on characteristics of "positive development" and higher scores on bullying, substance use and depression than students who also took part in youth development activities.

"Parents should be certain that their teens balance participation in sports and in youth development programs," said Richard Lerner, professor of child development at Tufts University School of Arts and Sciences in Boston. "Participation in even one youth development program may counteract possibly detrimental influences of sport participation on teen emotional and behavioral health, while also enhancing the health and well-being of their sons and daughters."

Youth development programs are after-school activities that involve adult mentorship, life skills training and opportunities for leadership, according to the study.

More information

The National Youth Development Information Center has more on youth development programs.

SOURCE: Tufts University, news release, Aug. 12, 2009
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