Kids Need To Relax A Little

kidsneedtoThree years on the soccer team, one as captain. Band for two years and chess club for four. If you think you’re the only kid on activity overload, think again. More and more teens are juggling homework with after-school activities, volunteer work, and jobs, and are exhausted from the effort.

Ask Lindsey Jones. Jones is an 18-year-old senior at Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, N.J. Her busy lifestyle “takes away from my sleep,” she told “If I could change my schedule, I’d probably do a little less.”

Thanks to a steady stream of club meetings, music lessons, and sports, teens like Jones are finding themselves on the fast track to burnout.

How Did We Get Here?

The trend began in the 1980s when educators said organized activities would benefit kids. They were right; extracurricular activities give kids an opportunity to socialize, learn organizational skills, gain self-esteem, and stay out of trouble.

Some teenagers, like 18-year-old Caroline Gable, enjoy having a busy schedule. A senior at Ridgewood High School, Gable serves as class president and school representative to the board of education. She also performs with the school’s theater group and teaches religious education classes. “I’m not stressed,” she said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of kids at school by being so involved.”

Some experts worry that kids are being encouraged to take on activities for all the wrong reasons. Often adults focus on how well a child performs or how the activity may be perceived by others. “One ninth grader told me that her aunt suggested she teach art to the deaf because it would look good on a college application,” said Alvin Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld is a child psychiatrist based in Greenwich, Conn., and is co-author of the book The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap. The book encourages parents to limit scheduled activities and urges kids to spend more time creating their own fun.

All Work and No Play?

Twenty years ago, kids had a lot more free time–12 more hours per week, according to a University of Michigan study. The study compared time diaries completed between 1981 and 1997 and found that kids today are busier than ever.

Some kids don’t even realize what they are missing. “We heard about a middle school English teacher who asked students to write about what they do when they hang out,” said Barbara Carlson. “There were kids who were confused–they didn’t know what it meant to hang out.” Carlson is a cofounder of Putting Family First, a Minnesota organization that educates parents about the problems of overscheduling.

Family Time

A busy schedule also means less time to hang out with family. In a 2000 national poll conducted by the YMCA, teens said their main concern was not spending enough time with their parents. Jones agrees. “I never see my family,” said Jones. “When I do see my mom, she gives me a to-do list. Then I get overloaded about everything I need to do.”

Studies show that teens benefit from spending quality time with their parents and siblings. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), kids who regularly eat dinner with their families are less likely than other kids to smoke, drink alcohol, or use illegal drugs. CASA lists attending religious services and working on homework as other family activities that keep kids out of trouble.

Taking It Easy

In some towns, parents have focused on spending quality time with their kids instead of rushing them to games and classes. In Ridgewood, parents organize a Ready, Set, Relax! night once a year. With the support of schools and coaches, kids have no homework and no practices for one night.

Other organizations are following suit. Rosenfeld has founded a group to encourage families to set aside family time at least one night a month. Another group, Putting Family First, plans to sponsor an activity-free night in Wayzata, Minn., sometime in the near future.

Karl Kakuk, 13, of Plymouth, Minn., has already gotten the message. Although he’s enjoyed organized activities in the past, he passed on joining the wrestling team at Wayzata East Middle School last year. Meeting every day after school for six weeks was “too much,” the seventh grader said. “I’d rather have time to do what I want to do, like listen to music, read, and build things.”

Karl’s 16-year-old sister, Allyn, a sophomore at Wayzata High School, has danced for 11 years but makes family time a priority. The Kakuks eat dinner together each night and play games or watch movies on Saturdays. “I’m pretty good at organizing my priorities,” Allyn said. “Spending time with your family is a valuable thing that people shouldn’t miss.”

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  1. Kate Adams

     /  November 13, 2015

    I remember when I was young, I actually thought about putting an end to my life. I thought there were too many problems I could not handle. I was thinking I study really hard at school and my parents are just ignoring it. Thankfully, mom and dad realized they were neglecting me. They made it up to me and I immediately got rid of all the unreasonable stress I was getting. Stress can really make kids unmanageable so they have to relax at times.

  2. Marc Green

     /  December 8, 2015

    My kids are doing well at school. But unlike some other parents out there, my wife and I are not the type who put pressure to our children. We do not push them to be the best in class. We know they also get stressed and we are afraid that giving them more to be stressed about might affect their health.

  3. Lucky Me

     /  December 14, 2015

    Parents must take time to talk to their children. Know what you can offer to your little ones so their mind, body and soul can get relaxed.


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