My therapy practice includes quite a few adolescents, mainly high school students. Lately, I've been amazed at how packed their schedules are. They practically have to pull out a PDA to make an appointment! When I asked one yesterday if things were winding down before the holidayr break, she looked at me like I had two heads. Evidently, the teachers are piling it on.
Of course, I can't be entirely objective about this topic. I'm a mental health professional and the kids I see are usually being treated for anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc. So I'm looking for any causes for the pathology I'm seeing.
In an article in Psychology Today, The Overbooked Child, psychologist David Elkins talks about the stress and depression he sees in his young patients. After interviewing his patient Kevin (not his real name) and his mother, the mother dismissed the idea that her son was stressed. She maintained that he enjoyed all the activities in which he was scheduled.
"But Kevin wasn't having a good childhood. He was overscheduled and on the brink of clinical depression. When I talked to him on his own, he confided that he missed playing with his friends in the neighborhood. They used to ride bikes, have water-balloon fights and build forts out of cardboard boxes. Now there wasn't time for those activities. 'I really like being in sports and everything,' he said. 'But not all that much.' "
In the book, The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, authors Alvin Rosenfield, M.D. and Nicole Wise discuss this issue. Rosenfield believes it's the parents who are driving this, "it's how we parent today."
"Parents feel remiss that they're not being good parents if their kids aren't in all kinds of activities. Children are under pressure to achieve, to be competitive. I know sixth-graders who are already working on their resumes so they'll have an edge when they apply for college."
When I've asked them about their schedules and whether their parents are pushing it, I often here that most of the activities, including enrolling in AP courses, are their choice.
On the Web site FamilyEducation.com, they suggest ways to help your kids work towards a balance in their activities:
Help Your Kids Strike a Balance
- Help your child set priorities.
- Help your child develop a realistic schedule to accommodate family, school, sports, and everything else.
- Find out at the beginning of the season what the coach's expectations are for the team.
- Let the coach know about your child's other commitments.
- Encourage your child to get homework done early in the day.
- Set aside a certain period every day for quiet study.
- Watch for signs of burnout, i.e., falling grades, diminished interest in other activities, and fatigue.
- Work with coaches and school officials to minimize sports interference with academics.
- Be a good role model: set priorities for yourself and stick to them. Point out athletes who maintain good grades.
This last point is critical. If you, as a parent, are so overscheduled yourself that you can't make time to discuss a healthy balance with your kid, that's an indicator of a problem. I'm amazed when I ask parents to schedule an appointment with me to discuss their child. I will often hear an incredulous, "Both of us?!" That always tells me very important information about the family's priorities. And yes, I insist that they both make time to come in.
Nancy L., LISW, LICDC