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Benefits of Extracurricular Participation in Early Adolescence: Associations with Peer Belonging and Mental Health

Abstract

Extracurricular participation plays an important role in positive youth development. Yet, little is known about the stability and change in extracurricular participation from middle childhood to early adolescence. Also, there is a gap in knowledge about the underlying processes that drive developmental outcomes associated with extracurricular participation. The present study examined transitions in extracurricular participation from grade 4 to 7, and investigated whether shifting from non-participation to participation in activities was associated with better mental health, considering peer belonging as a mediator. Latent Class Analyses of early adolescents’ (50% female) self-reports on the Middle Years Development Instrument in grades 4 and 7 (N = 10,149) revealed four clusters of extracurricular involvement at both grade levels (i.e., “no activities”, “all activities”, “sports only”, “individual activities”). Latent Transition Analysis showed that young people were most likely to stay in the same activities cluster from grade 4 to 7. About 10% were non-participants in grade 4 and had moved to activities by grade 7. In this subgroup, moving from non-participation to both sports and to all activities was associated with better mental health over time; this pathway was fully mediated by higher levels of peer belonging. The results suggest that supporting non-participants to join extracurricular activities can have implications for their mental health. Practical implications for communities, such as removing potential barriers to involvement before the onset of adolescence, are discussed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Note that the same set of path analyses was conducted for predicting self concept, an indicator for positive mental health. Results did not differ from those predicting optimism and life satisfaction; due to space restrictions and to avoid redundancy, results for self concept as a mental health outcome are not reported.

  2. 2.

    When peer belonging was not taken into account in the analytic model, there were direct and significant effects from transitions to the “all” cluster and the “sports only” cluster to mental health; these direct effects dropped to non-significance when taking into account peer belonging, supporting peer belonging as a mediator in the model.

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Authors' Contributions

EO conceived of the study, designed research questions, interpreted findings, and coordinated and drafted the manuscript; XRJ participated in the design of data analyses, performed statistical analyses, and contributed to drafting the manuscript; AMG participated in the interpretation of data analyses and provided critical review and editing of the manuscript; MG and KAS-R provided critical review and editing of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding

EO received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to carry out this research.

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Correspondence to Eva Oberle.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This research was approved by the Behavioural Research Ethics Board at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. Ethical approval #: H17-01723.

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Oberle, E., Ji, X.R., Guhn, M. et al. Benefits of Extracurricular Participation in Early Adolescence: Associations with Peer Belonging and Mental Health. J Youth Adolescence 48, 2255–2270 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-019-01110-2

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Keywords

  • Extracurricular activities
  • Middle childhood
  • Early adolescence
  • Positive and negative mental health
  • Latent transition analysis