How Over-Scheduling Affects Teens

I wanted to take a moment to share a perspective about the kinds of schedules that my students experience. After writing out these perspectives, I realized that the core of this blog entry deserves to be near the top of the post, so here is a schedule that I hope students and parents might consider for an eighth grader, and please know that these thoughts are my personal opinions.

8.75 hours of sleep. This is a doctor-recommended amount.
6:15 a.m. Wake up.
6:15-6:45 Hygiene (shower, deodorant every day, etc.)
6:45-7:15 Sit down breakfast, double-check backpack, make lunch.

7:15-7:30 Travel to school. Don’t arrive at the last minute! It’s stressful.
7:45-3:00p.m. School. Academics all day, but also moments of friendship and creativity.

After school, please consider only one and no more than two other pursuits in their lives:
after school schedule

Weekends: Rest, social fun, and family time. Time with friends and family, creative time (crafts/art), outside activities, movies, television, computer time, chores (life skills), maybe a little time for extended projects at school (no more than one hour), sports, and so on. This time is necessary to create psychologically healthy, kind, and brave people.

Today, I had to tell my Language Arts students that they are not allowed to any of my homework after 9:00 p.m. I was blunt. In past years, I used to have gentle conversations talking about the importance of healthy food, exercise, rest, and so on. I told them that their health and happiness is always more important than their academics, and I wanted to show them that I cared enough to enforce it. Unfortunately, these comments seem to be taken with a grain of salt because my students constantly express how they have no time to finish everything before 9:00 p.m., mainly influenced by extra classes and activities beyond the regular school day. I learn about their extra classes and extra activities through many conversations about how they are all exhausted and never sleep.

I wish that I could say that these conversations were rare. I’ve been a teacher for eighteen years now, and I am absolutely committed to serving my clients (students and their parents). Yet, as much as I hoped this kind of scheduling for children would be minimized by the numerous articles and studies that come out in the news on a regular basis, it hasn’t. Pediatricians, college professors, teachers, psychologists, school counselors, coaches, and most children would agree that kids need more time to rest, make friends, eat healthy food, have fun, and spend time with family. Eighty percent of my students say that they endure “over-scheduling” at thirteen years old, and because this often forces them to finish homework into the late hours of the night, even beyond midnight, students aren’t always physically or emotionally healthy.

maslow_hierarchy

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Just today I was talking about Maslow’s hierarchy. This is a psychological concept with five levels that explains that no one can achieve his/her potential (a.k.a. learn anything new) without the lower levels of the pyramid, like safety, food, rest, friendship, love and belonging, and self-esteem (a.k.a happiness). Many of my students were actually laughing, thinking that it was funny that there could ever be a time when they would prioritize friendship over schoolwork. Five students in that class said that they never eat lunch and eight students said they never have time for breakfast before school.

Some priorities to consider for teens:
1. Rest: Kids need at least 60 minutes a day of completely unstructured “down” time. Eighth grade students need to be asleep at 10:00pm in order to have enough hours to sleep and wake up ready to learn. 

2. Friends: Parents might consider talking to their children at dinner time and learn more about their friends. Is your home inviting to friends who come over for “hang out” time? Make sure that opportunities to build friendships are top priorities in your family. When students feel alone, their feelings of sadness can overwhelm their ability to do anything else. And if they become comfortable being alone all the time, their social awareness or social skills could be limited.

3. Hygiene: Teens need 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening for basic hygiene. They will sometimes try to ignore this allotment and skip some basic hygiene, so they may need coaching. Homework or classes should not sacrifice hygiene. This is a time when life skills, like how to use deodorant (yes, everyone needs it), how to avoid dandruff, or how to shave, must be learned. It’s a good time for parents to keep a healthy relationship with their teens so teens will stay open to learning these skills.

4. Minimize extra classes and activities.  They already have a 7.5 hour “work” day at school with typically another 1.5 hours of homework.  That’s a nine hour work day, and that is plenty for a teen. Research shows that do not need and over-stuffed résumé to get into a good college. In fact, eighth graders should not be thinking much about college at all. No college is looking into the history of a middle-schooler.  In fact, colleges request that new applicants are committed to one thing for a long time rather than seventeen different clubs and classes making them exhausted with a lack of independent thought.  Colleges don’t care about the “whats” or the “how manys” on your activity list. They are more interested in the “whys” and “so-whats” (Time.com, August 2016). They see a lack of life skills (Washington Post, October 2015), and that is worrisome. 

5. Life Skills.  You would be surprised the number of students who feel embarrassed when they can’t do basic life skills (like refilling a tape-dispenser or using a broom).  And at the same time, some of them have no perspective on it at all, so when they don’t know how to perform basic skills (like cooking scrambled eggs) at the age of thirteen, they are surprised to learn about all the kids who can, and they feel a little left out.  Here’s an article about chore ideas for small kids that just came to my attention.

Lastly, I originally started this post to talk about my Drama students. They are so excited to work in groups, to have daily moments of joy and laughter, and to be creative every day. We have a lenient schedule sometimes where I work hard to teach them how to build relationships with each other and find their personal identities. I just released what will be our rehearsal schedule for our next show, and I immediately started getting emails about all the kids who have conflicts with the dates. “Well, I can’t do Tuesdays because I have violin practice, and I can’t do Fridays because I go to Kumon for math practice, and . . .” To those students and their families, I would like to present the benefits of Drama rehearsal and any pursuit of the theater arts:

benefits

I’m sure that I could think of even more, but I hope you agree that these benefits last a lifetime.  Maybe we should all be searching for pathways that lead us toward these benefits, and in only one semester of Drama or nearly any elective, students might gather the ingredients that nourish their growth into a successful young adult. With the priorities of sleep, healthy eating, friends, fun, and love/encouragement, anyone can then set their sights on true success.

I define success as “brave, kind, and happy.”  I hope you do too.

Thank you for reading.

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