I hear it from parents: “I’m picking my son up early from basketball practice so I can get him to his piano lesson early so he can still get to his soccer game.” And I hear it from students: “Please don’t give us homework tonight! I have to go to volleyball practice after school, then to my dance practice, and then I have youth group. And I didn’t get last night’s homework done because right after school I had tae kwon do and then our game went late.”
How much is too much? And how do parents determine where the breaking point is when they want their kids to learn new skills, make friends, be involved, and belong somewhere (I called it “gang-proofing” my kids)? This isn’t just a problem for parents of teens; the scheduling nightmare can begin with kids as young as 5 or 6.
I read an article recently that suggested parents let teens be involved in only two major activities, such as one sport and one musical instruction. Which sounds reasonable, but parents want their kids involved in school sports with their friends, in club sports for the competition, in music lessons for the cultural enrichment, and in church activities for the spiritual growth.
I suggest parents keep their thermometer handy and use it frequently. Not the mercury-filled one, nor the digital one, nor even the stick-it-in-the-ear one, but the one that’s based on parental intuition and knowledge of their own children. Parents need to be aware of their teens’ needs for down time as well as their tolerance for stress. Teens who are pushed – or who push themselves – too hard will get sick and/or be more irritable than usual. Their grades will slip, and their relationships with friends and family will suffer. An observant parent will know when to insist on missing a practice, or even when to (strongly) encourage dropping out of something. This isn’t an easy decision for any of the parties involved, so it’s important to keep the goal in mind: to do what’s best for your son or daughter’s physical and emotional health.
Some red flags to pay attention to:
- A calendar so full of practice schedules and games that important commitments (a cousin’s band concert) or appointments (orthodontist) are forgotten;
- Frequent family arguments over whose activities are the most important;
- Teens who have neither the energy nor the desire to spend time doing the fun stuff, like friends’ birthday parties.