The new school year is in full swing (wait, didn’t we just take those “first day of school” pictures yesterday?) and chances are you’re in full-on schedule management and chauffeur mode. There’s a ton of extra-curricular activities that teens can participate in—marching band, sports, robotics, scouts, clubs, lessons, and more can fill the afternoons and evenings (and don’t forget those early morning swim team practices!) Great kids want to be involved and won’t hesitate to dive into a full schedule. But sometimes your weeks might feel like a never-ending series of drop-offs and pick-ups. It can feel like too much—not just for your teen but for the family as a whole.
We want our teens to try new things, discover or expand their talents, and spend time in positive, healthy pursuits. But we have to be diligent in making sure they’re not overloaded beyond what is really good for them. And we need to guard our own sanity while we try to coordinate packed schedules, transportation, and assignments without totally losing it.
As the mom of two active teens (one now in college) I can relate!
Before you decide to “accidentally” lose your car keys or lock your teenager in their room before you lose your mind, let’s talk about what’s happening inside theirs. You already know that at this age your teen is embarking on an exciting new life season—but what you may not know is how scared they are of losing it. In my research, I was struck by how much teens and pre-teens are exhilarated and enlivened by this profound new feeling of freedom that they’re experiencing: it rapidly becomes one of the most important and most motivating things in their life.
Why, you ask? Let’s talk.
Extra-curricular activities give teens the opportunity to try—and succeed at—new things.
For the first time, your teen is learning what they’re interested in and good at without the ever-present hand and guidance of good ol’ mom and dad. They’re connecting with people and making new friendships of their choosing—maybe kids you’ve hardly even met. Maybe they’re being offered the chance to try new things that they’ve never done before. And finding out that they’re good at them! In many ways, your teen is probably feeling like a real person instead of just a child who doesn’t really know who they are. Now put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine how scary it would be to feel as if you were going to lose a lot of that. So if you decide that you need to limit your teen’s activities, this is why you might get some serious push-back.
Teens don’t want to lose the good feelings they get from succeeding at new things.
If you try to limit commitments by having your teen choose several (out of their many) activities, they’re not hearing a statement of sanity for the family, of compromise for you, or of setting good boundaries so their grades don’t suffer. They’re hearing things like: “You’re going to lose this amazing feeling of fitting in and people admiring you.” “You’re going to lose the feeling that you’ve finally gotten, of being good at something.” “You’re going to lose the intoxicating sensation that you can make your own choices and be your own person.”
You can see how upsetting that would be, right? Now, don’t get me wrong: it’s very reasonable to have your teen limit their activities if necessary. You’re doing your job as a parent to notice if things aren’t working and taking steps to address that. But the key is to understand what is underneath your teen’s reaction—because to them, their worry is reasonable, too.
Find ways to help your teen experience success within a reasonable schedule.
So if you consider making some changes, try to learn specifically what your teen’s worries might be and do whatever you feasibly can to address them. Ask questions about what they like most about each activity, and pull out the feelings behind the fears. Let them know that you totally understand and want to prioritize the things that are most important to them.
For example: “I saw you grin when you made that basket and everyone cheered. That’s a great feeling, isn’t it? If that is really important to you, let’s make sure one of your two activities is a team sport like that.” Or, “You’re really enjoying getting to know Katie and Eva, aren’t you? Maybe if we cut debate club, you can invite them over after school some days.”
Even though you might decide that cutting back on some activities is the best thing for your teen (and your family) in the long run, show them that you “get” why they could be upset, and that you want to value what matters to them. The end result? A more workable schedule for everyone and a better understanding of the individual your teen is becoming.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Peace: A 40-day Devotional Journey For Moms, focuses on discovering biblical direction to become a woman of serenity and delight in all seasons – and have impact for generations to come.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.