Teens and Activities: When to Say “When”

Q: I have a daughter who wants to do absolutely everything! At fifteen, she has a good track record of managing one sport at a time, keeping her grades in good shape, and being active with both scouts and our church. Now she wants to add music lessons and the school band! I think she is going overboard. How can I keep her from totally overwhelming herself and ending up with too much?

A: Some people thrive, blossom and grow when meeting multiple challenges. If this describes your daughter, can you support her dreams? What will she need to do to make this work for the whole family? It sounds as if your family has an excellent history of encouraging your kids to be active and involved with outside activities since they were very young. Excellent!

This, however, is one of the first times it feels like your daughter may have gone to an extreme when it comes to extra-curricular commitments. You already know how she juggles school, scouts, sports, and church. If, in fact, you have watched her get overwhelmed and anxious rather than enjoy all the things she does, you have cause for concern. If she has struggled in the past, ask her if she has the same memory of doing too much. Hopefully, this will start a discussion about why she wants to add more to her already full plate.

If she has handled things well or thinks this time will be different, listen carefully as she helps you understand. She might have learned some time management and prioritizing skills that she thinks will help her now. Get as much information as you can on her reasoning for carrying such a full load. You may be surprised. Whether you are hearing about new friends, or her thinking about her resume as she applies to colleges, you might find she has good reasons for her interest in adding new activities.

Before you take a position on these activities, the costs that will be incurred, and the transportation issues behind supporting them, clarify for yourself what your major concerns include. If they include not being able to handle too much at once, make sure it is your daughter you are thinking about and not your own comfort level with being over-scheduled and accountable to others.

This doesn’t mean you have to pay for the new activities or provide the transportation. In fact, finding ways to meet those needs may be part of your agreement with your daughter. If there are financial constraints, let her know you need her to find a way to contribute to the costs of renting an instrument, paying for lessons, and working her schedule to complement the family members’ jobs, and sports’ schedules as well.

Several studies show the benefits of young people being active. Teens that are active in several outside school groups:

  • Have a reduced likelihood of dropping out of school;
  • Get better grades;
  • Are less likely to use drugs or alcohol;
  • Develop higher self-confidence;
  • Learn and practice time management and organizational skills
  • Have a larger network of friends;
  • Are often more focused and goal directed;
  • Have broader socially diverse interests;
  • Are less likely to become addicted to computer games and not engage with their peers; and
  • Develop leadership skills.

If you are concerned that you might not recognize the signs of your daughter becoming overwhelmed, many youth show the following signs:

  • Frequent angry outbursts and being easily distractible;
  • Blaming family members for asking for help with normal chores;
  • Sleeping or eating either too much or too little;
  • Shutting down and retreating to her room, watching TV or playing video games endlessly;
  • Feeling less pleasure and more pressure;
  • Being unwilling to make space for family time;
  • Demanding that the family help more than is reasonable either financially, or with supporting all the activities.

How have you handled it in the past if she started a new activity and then changed her mind? Some families believe that once you commit to something, you finish it. Does she know what is expected once she starts a new activity? This might be another important issue to discuss prior to any decision being made.

You asked how you could keep your daughter from totally overwhelming herself. Sometimes letting someone we love learn the hard way, from overdoing and learning her own limits, is the most important thing we can do. Eventually, you won’t be there to help protect her from doing too much. It is best now for you to be the safety net that can help her process learning her own limits rather than setting limits that she fights against. It sounds as if both of you will need help as you work this out together. Good luck!

Categories: Tweens & Teens