Extracurricular activities and adolescent friendships: Do the benefits of participating vary by mental health indicators?


Schaefer, David R. & Ettekal, Andrea Vest (2016). Extracurricular activities and adolescent friendships: Do the benefits of participating vary by mental health indicators?. 2016 Add Health Users Conference. Bethesda, MD.


According to positive youth development perspectives, extracurricular activity (ECA) participation bolsters positive developmental outcomes, including friendships. Limited research suggests that ECAs may be especially helpful for adolescents who face challenges making friends. Our interest is in mental health, which is a primary indicator of risk for poor friendship outcomes, such as low peer acceptance. We use social network analysis to investigate the impact of ECAs on friendships for adolescents who vary across mental health indicators, including depression, suicidality, and self-esteem. We use Waves I and II data from two schools in Add Health. At Wave I, adolescents reported participation (yes/no) in 30 different types of ECAs (e.g., sports, clubs). Mental health and friendships (10 closest friends) were measured in both waves. Stochastic actor-based models predicting friendship change revealed that adolescents were 1.5 times more likely to be friends if they participated in ECAs together. However, the effect of ECA co-participation on friendships did not differ by mental health. ECAs were just as likely to promote friendships among co-participants regardless of mental health status. Next, we calculated the relative influence (RI) of model effects, which indicates how important ECAs were for friendship compared to other modeled friendship processes (e.g., reciprocity, transitivity, homophily). The relative influence of ECA co-participation varied by mental health, such that adolescents in poorer mental health were relatively less likely to select friends through ECAs than through other processes. This occurs because, for instance, 1) depressed students were less likely to join activities, and, net of participation rates 2) friendships with co-participants were less likely to be supported by other friendship mechanisms (e.g., transitivity) for depressed youth. These findings suggest that ECA participation promoted friendship regardless of depression status, but allude that the mechanism by which ECAs promote friendship may differ for at-risk adolescents. Ongoing analyses investigate 1) how the effect of ECAs on friendships for at-risk youth differs by activity type (e.g., sports), and 2) alternative processes explaining at-risk adolescents’ friendships. Our discussion highlights how the positive outcomes of ECAs may appear similar for at-risk vs. not at-risk youth, but the underlying developmental processes within ECAs likely differ.



Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

2016 Add Health Users Conference


Schaefer, David R.
Ettekal, Andrea Vest

Year Published


City of Publication

Bethesda, MD

Reference ID