I firmly believe that most kids have too much to do today. While there is a need to keep them somewhat busy to keep them out of trouble, there is a delicate balance between that and overbooking them with too many activities that cause them burn out and stress. It is a delicate balance, and I have found a general rule of thumb to go by, that has proven fairly effective for my kids.
It is one activity at a time; definitely not to exceed two. That is an extracurricular activity like a sport, or scouts, or music, or drama club that is after school or on weekends. A regular activity in addition to their regular school hours. A job also counts as an activity.
This rule is not without flexibility or discussion. Everything is open to evaluation. I’m not a parent that makes a concrete rule and doesn’t have the right to revoke or bend the rule if I choose to, and I make that clear that is MY prerogative, and only MY prerogative; not theirs. That means I can revoke or bend the rule, but they cannot. So if I decide that one child cannot handle any extra activities, while another can handle three; that is my decision.
An important thing my children have been taught early is that they are not the same as anyone else; and life is not fair. They don’t always want to be treated the same, so when life doesn’t come out ‘fair’ they shouldn’t expect it to. They always want it to not be the same when it’s in their favor, but balk about fairness when it isn’t. Even my twins hated being dressed alike, but let one get something the other doesn’t, and there is hell to pay.
I do not believe in pushing children into advanced placement classes because they are intelligent and trying to make them push ahead in school all the time. I have my own philosophy on this. I believe all this special treatment and pushing creates a child that is stressed, isolated, and ill prepared for functioning in the real world. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe a child should ever take advanced classes, my twins are in them now. They put themselves in the classes and they know I will pull the plug if they get to be too much.
A child that is either overbooked or over pushed cannot keep up with the load and suffers from stress to perform, becomes isolated from friends and social environments. They suffer from the need to perform for acceptance or pride from parents. They sacrifice sleep and friend time to try to keep up. They often become obsessed with performing and shut out other aspects of life in order to narrow the focus on the overwhelming performance.
They don’t learn how to interact with people of all types and work with teams and therefore are ill prepared to function in the real world when they are adults. Social interaction and some free time are very important. The hard knocks of high school drama are part of learning. Making up with a best friend or dumping a bad boyfriend is part of learning about yourself, and who you are; and how to deal with the real world. It’s all part of the growing up process, and its all part of something they still need their parents for.
I think many parents don’t realize how critically teens need them. They seem grown up. They look grown up. They want to be treated like they are grown up. But they are not grown up. Studies have proven a significant portion of their brain is NOT fully developed yet. It’s that part that handles judgment. The part that you ask them, “What were you thinking?” is not fully functioning yet. Their brain isn’t finished growing yet and it isn’t working entirely right. They really weren’t thinking. So don’t let outward appearances fool you. They aren’t grownups yet. They do still need you.