When I joined the drama club in high school, I finally felt like I had found my people. Doing plays with the same kids each season gave me a sense of purpose, helped me find my voice, and provided me with deep and lasting friendships. I even ended up marrying the boy who acted alongside me in Twelfth Night all those years ago!
In many ways, being a drama nerd-as a well as a literary magazine geek-shaped the trajectory of my life and career. This fall, my middle schooler chose drama as his elective and auditioned for the school play. And I couldn't help smiling from ear to ear.
Benefits of the Arts and Artistic Expression
It's not that I needed him to follow in my footsteps. It's that I know firsthand the tangible benefits of artistic expression-benefits that will last him well beyond the teen years.
Finding Their Voice, Learning Self-Discipline
"Teens are at the age where they are trying to find their voices," says Emanuela Friscioni, director of the Creative Arts Academy at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, which offers arts classes geared toward tweens and teens. They can explore music, visual design, studio art, photography, dance, film, theatre, and other modes of artistic expression. While some participants in the program go on to pursue degrees in the arts, from Friscioni's perspective, it's about much more than future career plans for creative teens.
She sees the arts as an opportunity for teens to express themselves and gain self-confidence. Along the way, they also learn invaluable life skills like discipline and the meaning of hard work. "We want them not only to explore their voice, but also to better themselves," says Friscioni. "Work hard, push harder, achieve. Students learn to balance exploration with working toward goals." For example, in taking dance classes, students learn highly skilled, intricate dance moves. They also how to function as a unit with the other dancers. "You have to be part of a team," says Friscioni. "If you mess up, you have an impact on everyone else."
The Arts as a Stress Buster
Azizi Marshall, a certified creative arts therapist and founder of the Center for Creative Arts Therapy in Chicago, offers another perspective: Teens who are battling anxiety and depression can particularly benefit from arts involvement. "Self-expression allows adolescents to connect with others, while enhancing their own sense of self, which is developmentally crucial for teens," Marshall says. "When a teen is able to harness their own ability to solve a conflict and make positive choices for themselves, they become more confident and struggle less with symptoms of anxiety and stress."
Boost Their College Success
In addition to increasing teens' self-discipline and reducing stress, having some arts education under their belt can even give kids a leg up when it comes time to apply to college. "Colleges are always looking to build a diverse class of students, and an interest or talent in arts and music can really help to distinguish applicants from other students who are solely focused on academics and sports," says Deena A.
Maerowitz, a college advisor with The Bertram Group, an educational consulting firm. In Friscioni's experience, though, it's not just about getting into a good college. While 98 percent of Creative Arts Academy participants continue on to college-many of them even gaining college credit while taking these courses-what they have gained through their participation in the arts is something you can't quantify. "It doesn't matter if they end up becoming lawyers or musicians. When you achieve something in the arts, you gain confidence." And that lasts a lifetime.
Wendy Wisner is a writer and a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC)
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