After weeks of VH1's, "I Know My Kid's a Star," a Time story is a reminder that high schools (and middle schools) offer a financially and emotionally viable theater alternative. The Time story is really about the trend toward high schools taking on shows that are "new and edgy;" rather than the old favorites like "Oklahoma," and "Guys and Dolls." I'll get to the "edgy" issue - but the Time story reminds me that there is a much better option to investing significant parental resources into kids' activities.
For too many American families, childhood is now all about lessons. The result is over-scheduled, stressed, competitive, self-conscious kids - and their parental counterparts. Suppose your child has a theatrical flair - many do. Like the VH1 parents, you can opt to drive from acting and improvisation to voice lessons, to portrait studios and auditions, to agents. If you think for a moment that your child doesn't feel pressure to succeed from all that parental investment, (s)he does. It's all about competition.Alternatively, kids can be encouraged to participate in school theater. Yes, maybe the student who has had some acting lessons or voice lessons will "land" the lead. Mostly though, the students spend productive time together, working as a team to create something, spending time at school with a group of kids who choose to be doing just that. It's supervised, once the roles are cast it isn't about who wins and there are opportunities not only for theatrical kids but for kids who are interested in art, business, promotion, coordination. High school casts bond and celebrate together. Certainly, there are no guarantees - kids can get into the "wrong" crowd and make bad choices anywhere but being busy together at school gives them as good a chance as any of being on the right path.
Unless your child is really excited about formal lessons, consider this as a high potential area for cuts in the household budget. Save the lesson money and the gas money. Use the time you were spending running around to (imagine this) cook or even putter at home.
As for the choice of edgier shows - which can be controversial - most of the shows are toned down and these choices can add vitality to school shows. It's precisely the "edgy" aspects that draw a larger group of students - and working on these shows together can be the ideal way for kids to have a chance to explore the issues raised. That is, as Richard Zoglin says in the story, "teachers see these shows as learning opportunities ...You cannot get in a classroom what you can from the high school musical."
Saving money on kids' activities - try school!