Is a busy kid a happy kid? Studies say maybe not.

By Katie Mest

The world is moving faster and faster, and it has definitely changed since you were a kid.

As soon as children reach the teenage years, they go from all the leisure time in the world, with planned snack breaks and scheduled play dates, to no free time whatsoever. The moment they walk through the middle school doors, they are pushed to join clubs and activities that will help them on their journey to their dream college.

The only catch is that while they need to maintain their grades for their higher education ambitions, they also need: the right extracurriculars to complement their future majors (as if they would know what those might be as an incoming middle schooler); sports teams to stand out on college applications; teacher relationships for recommendations; and so on …

You get the point.

They need diversity in their interests, but consistency to show these interests are real and not just being used to build a resume. They have to do everything they can – but there is still only 24 hours in the day.

From Me to You

I‘m comparing myself to my peers constantly. I can’t help it.

Especially when I do particularly bad on an assignment. I can’t help but peak at my neighbor’s paper to see how they did. This isn’t exactly something I’ve just recently picked up.

I had a lot of overachievers in my high school. The kind that are now at Ivy League schools pursuing the many varieties of engineering degrees. It’s hard to be around that much success when you aren’t physically, mentally or intellectually capable of that same success.

So what am I supposed to do?

I overcompensate now by overworking myself. Can I join a new club? How about get another job? If I can’t get that summer internship I want, I can at least make some money.

But, I’m realizing, I need to be able to stand out with the talents I was given. But it never feels like enough. It always feels like I need to be doing more.

But there are still only 24 hours in a day.

I never consider it an option for me to drop one of my tasks, even in my most stressed out times.

And here’s my point. More likely than not, your kid is in the same boat.

The Facts

A UCLA survey of college freshmen found that incoming students at four-year colleges and universities spent half as much time socializing in their final year of high school as those who entered college in 1987 (that’s you, parents!) Kids today are spending more time keeping up with the busy day-to-day schedule they’ve created for themselves.

There are some negative effects to this, such as developing high amounts of stress. And maybe your kids are making decisions based on anxiety, rather than any real interest in the activity. Or, maybe you’re taking control of your kid’s after school activities. Are your decisions based on anxiety about their future? (For an article with a balanced view, try this: 2013 New York Times article.)

Importantly, I just had to do a little bit of research to turn up some surprising facts. Kids today are too busy to maintain even the basics of what you held down at 16, i.e. a job. About 60 percent of teens in 1979 were employed. About 34 percent of teens today have jobs, according to Business Insider. And that number is projected to go down even further.

https://www.businessinsider.com/generation-z-teen-jobs-2018-5

Can’t teens even be motivated by money?

Well, maybe. But there is something more important. College.

Kids today are not only competing with the best and brightest in their school, many of whom are applying to the big Division I and Ivy League schools, but they’re also competing with just many, many more of their peers. More high school grads are going to college (and many, many fewer are taking STEM or trade jobs – which is a problem we’ll discuss another day.) Dr. Lauber has told us that when he went to college, only 50% of this high school peers in his small town went to college. Now, its more than 80%. Nationwide, college applications and college attendance has sky rocketed. In 1990 there were around 12 million undergrads. Today , there are 20.8 million (National education stats.)

Maybe this is all starting at too early of an age. I believe today kids want to know how they stack up in their classes. And with each new grade level, there is an even fiercer competition.

Quick question: have your “future plans” for your kid seeped into their “KID years?” Do they have to have perfect grades, two or more extracurriculars and a squeaky-clean record. If your kid thinks this, are they handling this pressure well?

How you can help

OK. I’m not a parent. So just ignore what I’m about to write if you want. But I want to be helpful if I can. So here is a quick summary (of what other people have written) about “what you can do about this.”

  1. Keep a family planner. Encourage your child to have their own planner to keep track of assignments and after-school activities. But also keep one at home in a place you and your child will see every day, such as a bulletin board in the kitchen.
  2. Talk through commitments with them before they decide to join. This saves a lot of stress in the long run. Are they joining because they want to? Or because they think they should? Is it worth taking that time away from homework and other obligations?
  3. Make goals for each new activity. For sports and clubs, the goal might be to “always enjoy the work they’re putting in.” If they stop enjoying the activity, it might be time to re-evaluate spending time on it.
  4. Prioritize with them. Add some perspective to which of their activities deserve the most attention when life gets busy. With school work, sports practice, a club meeting and an after-school job all in the same night, things can get hectic. which should they do first?
  5. Make sure they have time to themselves each week. Not time just with friends. Not just time with family. Time alone. Reflection periods are necessary to the recharging process for kids (and you too, parents!) Let them play music in their room, or veg out on the couch at least some time each week.
  6. And talk with them. How are they doing? A quick check on a car ride home, or maybe while gathering the laundry can make a real difference and alert you to things you want to respond to further.

To learn more about the inner struggles your child may be facing when it comes to Instagram, read our other blog post here.

Or check out this one on cyberbullying.

Some more links:

https://www.businessinsider.com/generation-z-teen-jobs-2018-5

New York Times article on over-scheduled children

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