The Mental Health Dangers of an Over-Stuffed School Schedule

The Mental Health Dangers of an Over-Stuffed School Schedule

For their teens to succeed as adults, many parents (and teens) think they must be involved in numerous extracurricular activities. Perhaps we believe this abundance of activities will foster a sense of pride and accomplishment. Perhaps parents are hoping to keep teens out of trouble. For many teens, there is a strong sense of pressure to impress colleges with a robust resume. But is this excessive involvement in activities doing more harm than good?

According to a study published in the journal “Sport, Education, and Society,” the social demands of an extracurricular-heavy schedule are not only placing an unprecedented strain on families, but also potentially harming healthy development and well-being.

The researchers interviewed 50 families of primary-aged children and found that 88% of the kids were involved in extracurricular activities four to five days a week. These activities were the central focus of family life, especially in households with more than one child. As a consequence, families were spending less quality time together and children were exhausted.

A teen might be over-extended if they are experiencing any one (or more) of the following:

  • They feel like they are constantly stressed
  • They are routinely losing sleep in order to keep up with homework
  • They are feeling tired “all the time”
  • They are losing motivation to take care of the details of life
  • They detach themselves from friends or family
  • They experience muscle tension, headaches, or other body signs of stress
  • They start to think more negatively about life or school
  • The snap in anger at people they care about

The researchers from the journal “Sport, Education, and Society” were quick to warn parents of the potential negative impact of an over-stuffed school schedule: “Raising awareness of this issue can help those parents who feel under pressure to invest in their children’s organized activities, and are concerned with the impact of such activities on their family, to have the confidence to plan a less hectic schedule for their children.”

Working Toward Balance:

In order for extracurricular activities to do more good than harm, teens have to make sure self-care and time with friends/family are prioritized. Here are some ways you can help your teen find a balance:

  1. Let Teens be Teens: Make sure there is enough non-structured time for teens unwind, rest, and play. Shoot for one day each week that is relatively unscheduled.
  2. Support Their Down Time: Encourage your teen when they want to spend time drawing, reading, writing, listening to music, or engaging in other healthy ways to relax.
  3. Model Good Self-Care: It’s important for parents to manage their own stress well. Whether you meditate, go for walks, see a therapist, or read books for self-care, you are modeling powerfully how to slow down, tend to your holistic needs, and keep commitments in check.
  4. Talk to Your Teen about Priorities in Decision-Making: Don’t decide which activities stay and which go without your teen’s input. They should be able to help decide the activities that bring them the most benefits and joy.

Nowadays, teens and adults can find themselves juggling way too many responsibilities. It’s important for all of us to slow down, relax, and examine our priorities. If you or your teen are struggling with overcommitment, a counselor on our team might be available to help.

 

Sources:

https://psychcentral.com/news/2018/05/15/too-many-extracurricular-activities-for-kids-may-do-more-harm-than-good/135388.html

https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/12/01/parents-should-not-put-too-much-pressure-on-kids/113269.html

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200301/are-we-pushing-our-kids-too-hard

3 Tips for Managing Technology with Your Teen

3 Tips for Managing Technology with Your Teen

Do you feel frustrated when you can’t get your teen’s attention from behind his or her phone or computer?  I can relate.  With two teenage daughters at home, I have to work hard to preserve some closeness and family time with them.

I hear all the research about how technology increases the likelihood of depression and anxiety, can affect sleep and school performance, and can lead to obesity and aggressive behavior. Oh, and did I mention that technology use can actually become our kids’ first addiction?! I don’t know about you but I can easily go into my “freak out mode” reading about all this.

Sometimes I need my husband or even my teens to rein me back in.  Technology is here to stay.  The internet is forever.  Also, how can I not consider all the benefits of the internet that we didn’t have 20 years ago: my teen can take an advanced course online (we are so thankful for Khan Academy’s helpful videos) and I can work from home sometimes and spend more time with my teens. How would we even stay in touch with my kids’ grandparents who live thousands of miles away if it weren’t for Skype and Viber.

So, I am choosing not to get stuck in the “freak out mode” and at the same time not to give my teens free rein online.

 

As parents, we are to guide and teach our teens how to use technology to benefit them and not to harm them.

Here are three tips that have helped me and other parents I know.  I hope you can use them as a guide to define and redefine your technology boundaries with your teen.

 

  1. Create a Technology Agreement Together

You know how we as parents can get easily annoyed when we cannot get our teen’s attention to do the chores or get ready to go for a family outing.

Well, having a little family meeting, creating a plan for how to manage technology in your home, and writing it down can be quite helpful. It will help you to be less reactive and more proactive in how you respond to your teen’s choices later.

Here is what one parent shared about the agreement they established with their teen daughter:

Our 14 year old daughter is allowed to be on her phone and social media only after her daily and weekend chores are completed. We turn off her WIFI until she completes her tasks. On weeknights, her WIFI shuts off automatically at 9:30, and on weekends at 10:30. We believe this is allowing her to socialize with peers, but within some parameters. My husband and I also follow her Instagram, so we can see what she posts. And we have talked about appropriate and inappropriate behavior on the Internet and the dangers of it as well. We are all just trying to do the best we can in this social media obsessed world of ours.

In my home, the agreement is that the phones get put on the charger at 9pm in the kitchen.  My girls have an alarm set up for 8:55pm to remind them to do it.  If the phones don’t make it into the kitchen on time, my teens get to go without having their phone the next day.

These exact boundaries might not work for your family, but having some plan in place about managing technology is guaranteed to improve your teen’s and your family’s life.

What kind of technology boundaries would work well for your family? Sit down and talk to your spouse and your teen about it.

 

  1. Set Up Digital Free Zones In Your Home

Our phones are seductive.  When our phones are near us, we are prone to ignore the people we love.  That applies to us parents as well as our teens.

Thanks to social media our teens can feel social pressure 24/7. When we were growing up, we could escape from some of the social pressure we felt once the school day was over. Our children usually don’t have many breaks.

Yes, we want our teens to be accepted by their peer group by allowing them to communicate on social media and through text with their friends, but it doesn’t need to be constant.

Consider having certain times of the day or certain places in your house to be digital free zones. It will help you to focus more on your teen and it will have your teen have a break from their electronic social life.

Family dinner time can be a good one to start with.  Invite your teen to join you by saying, “We will miss the best part of eating together by being on our phones.  Let’s charge them in another room.”

No devices in the car can have great opportunities for conversations.  In fact, many teens open up a lot more when they are side by side with their parent (as in the car or on a walk) instead sitting with them face to face.

I am also a big advocate for no phones (or computers) in a teen’s bedroom at night.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard teens share in my office, “I am so tired today.  My friend kept texting me until 3am last night”.

Consider when and where your family’s digital free zone can be.  You can make it part of your technology agreement.

 

  1. Randomly Check Your Teen’s Social Media

You can sit down and check your teen’s social media together.  It can be a great way to connect with your teens and learn more about their interests.

You can also randomly check your teen’s social media on your own. Though, I would encourage you not to do it in secret.  Make it part of the agreement that you will randomly check their social media accounts.  Make it known to them.

This opens up a door for you to guide them through what’s safe and what’s appropriate while they are on social media.

You get to help them figure out how to handle bullying if there is any going on in their online life. You get to help your teen explore if social media creates a sense of isolation for them.

I know you’ve taught and talked to them at length about what is safe and appropriate already.  But having random checks provides opportunities to address issues you might have never suspected to come up.

Here is what one parent shared:

We did all the teaching/talking…thought we were good.  One day I randomly checked because she had been nonstop on the tablet, getting extremely moody…found her being pressured to have cyber sex, giving out personal information, she was knee deep in online drama.

Your teen might be very emotionally and mentally mature, but it might still be hard for your teen to withstand some not-so-good choices. This is especially true if he or she is being pressured by a crush, a best friend, or someone else important in their peer group.

Please, choose to casually monitor and talk to your teen about their social media behavior.  You might just prevent them from heading down the wrong path again!

Being a parent of a teen can be exhausting.  With some planning and intentionality, managing technology with your teen can add to your peace of mind and help both of you connect more.

If technology has been a big source of frustration or barrier in you connecting with your teen, start by taking these small steps to improve this issue: create a technology plan, set up digital free zones in your home, and have random checks of your teen’s social media.

From the Author: Olya Pavlishina

I want to thank Star Meadow Counseling for letting me make a special guest appearance on their blog. Ericka Martin, with Star Meadow Counseling, also wrote a great article, “How To Make Anxiety Your Ally, Not Your Enemy,” which I’ve posted on my own website at https://integrity-counseling.com.