How to Help Your Tween or Teen Find Balance in an Overscheduled World
As we know, most tweens and teens are overscheduled with juggling activities, sports, homework, jobs and more. On top of this, their social lives become a lot more important, and with the addition of social media, the lure of constantly comparing themselves to others becomes omnipresent.
We often wonder how to set our kids up for success, while also letting them be, well, kids? We spoke with Jonathan Wolf, owner and founder of YouTime Coaching for advice on how to best support our kids during a time when they are pulled in multiple directions.
Q: How can parents try to avoid overscheduling their kids from the get-go?
A: For starters, parents need to be equipped with some sort of baseline skillset for how to gauge their child’s response to being over-scheduled and more importantly overwhelmed. Some children express themselves more overtly (yelling/screaming, crying, actively avoiding...etc), while others can be more overt and disguise these feelings.
Either way, parents need to frequently revisit the concept of “getting to know your kid” because although parenting never stops, the role does change quite frequently.
To avoid over-scheduling your child, take into consideration three aspects of their day-day life:
First, what are the items that your child “needs to be doing”? These are responsibilities that are somewhat consistent week to week and are viewed as the essential or basic items needed in their life. They would be similar to a parent paying their mortgage or car payment (going to school, doing homework, doing their chores...etc).
Second, what are the items that your child “should be doing”? This is where some subjectivity comes into play, but includes items such as chores, extracurricular activities, getting a job, social life, exercise and many others. This is the first category where the child and parent may have some disagreement. In order for there to be a disagreement, there needs to be communication and that is the take home message here. Talk to your children about why they “should be doing” specific activities and see if they agree, disagree, or just maybe they have different preferences that meet the same need.
Third, what are the items that your child “wants to be doing”? These items may include playing video games, going out with friends or watching TV. Some of the activities in these areas can either be used as an earned privilege, a reward for something, and/or used as a break in-between the “needs to be doing” items. Sit down with your child and find out what they want to be doing with their free time and don’t simply fill it for them.
Q: What are ways parents/kids can avoid FOMO (fear of missing out)?
A: The short answer...
Don’t avoid it and limit social media.
The long answer...
I believe avoiding it IS the problem. Adolescence is a time where your children are no longer striving to get their parents approval but more so the approval of their friends. It is a constant battle of finding your “in group.” With those two developmental factors in place, your kids are naturally going to compare their lives to those of friends. The initial comparison is not necessarily the problem, but running away with that story line and the negative mental scripts that follow is what can make the real impact on your child.
As a parent, FOMO is not something to avoid or a problem that can be fixed. It is instead, a conflict that needs to be managed. Kids have the opportunity to benefit from learning how to deal with feelings such as jealously, worry/fear, desire, and sadness (all potentially stemming from the original FOMO).
SPOILER ALERT: Your kid will not see it that way, so keep in mind that this is a parent’s perspective. The fear of missing out has been around for a very long time but what we are talking about here has more to do with FOMO on steroids caused by social media. Kids are constantly flicking through somebody else’s highlight real, which is typically very different than that person’s day-day life.
Use these opportunities as a conversation starter or at a minimum take inventory of how your kid responds to FOMO and what emotions come up for them. In addition to this, limit their social media exposure as early on as possible.
Q: What are strategies for juggling homework along with having a social life?
A: Many parents focus on how to manage time outside of school for things such as homework and social life, while I believe that we need to also focus on the time inside school. Many kids have some sort of study hall or free blocks that are going under-utilized during the school day. The kids we work with that utilize these times to do homework/study typically come home with significantly less work to do, or even no work at all. If this is an option to make some progress in, it may just be your kid’s golden ticket.
If your kid does not have daily/weekly study halls and free blocks, then here are a few piece of advice.
Usually, the first hour of coming home from school can be the hardest. Use about 30 minutes for your kid to transition back home instead of jumping right into homework. I mean, if you got home from an 8-hour day at the office, would it be appealing to jump right into more work? I think not. Identify different “approved activities” that your kid can utilize during this transition time and be clear about when homework starts. This will give them time to potentially play video games with friends, go on Snapchat, or socialize in some other way.
Yes, your kid needs a social life but your kid’s “fear” of NOT having one is very frequently catastrophized. Their perceived social value is constantly in flux and if they do not go to a party, hang out with particular individuals, or join the group text than they may lose friendships. In many situations, this is not true, but the feeling is real and that needs to be validated.
Encourage distraction free zones and smaller time chunks (30-40 minutes on and 10 minutes off) to complete homework more efficiently. If they can stay on top of this, allow them more freedom as a privilege on the weekends.
Thanks to Jonathan Wolf for his great advice. If you have anything to add, we’d love to hear more about it in the comments!
Jonathan Wolf attended the University of Rhode Island to obtain a degree in Kinesiology and Psychology before coming to Boston to earn his Master’s Degree in Counseling and Sport Psychology from Boston University. In addition to his work with YouTime Coaching, Jonathan serves as a consultant for a private psychiatric facility in Boston where he runs life coaching based groups, and is currently developing a life coaching and happiness based app. Visit his website to learn more.
PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.