Recently I was at my child’s annual pediatric apt when the doctor asked my teenager an unusual question, “Do you have enough down time built into your schedule to decompress and relax?” It’s certainly not often you hear that when considering that studies show that 60% of teenagers spend an average of 20 hours per week in front of a screen. And, more shockingly, 7% of teenagers spend 50 hours of screen time every week! However, there is a group of teenagers, mine included, that are really busy. They are taking honors/AP classes, are enrolled in extra-curricular activities such sports, dance, and/or theatre, and just have very little extra time for extra things.
This isn’t necessarily bad. College applications are right around the corner and we all know that having excellent grades and a good standardized test score isn’t always enough these days to get into a top college. Yet, the doctor’s question really resonated with me. I asked him why he asked it and he told me that in his very lengthy career working in pediatrics, he has never seen so many stressed out teens that are exhibiting signs and symptoms anxiousness, sleep deprivation, and depression. Obviously, the lack of extra time to “chill” and “hang with friends” is taking a toll on teenagers’ physical and emotional health.
And so, as parents, what do we do? Finding the right balance is a challenge. Idle teenagers tend to be teenagers that get in trouble; yet we don’t want them so busy that they have no time to enjoy these high school years, because as we all know, life gets busier and busier as they head to college, possibly graduate school, and then the work force.
So, here are some signs Very Well Family has listed to look out for:
1) Your teen NEVER has any downtime. Having a little downtown is a good thing. New hobbies or interests can be explored, or they can use the time to just be a kid. Ask yourself when was the last time your teen did nothing? If you can’t think of a time, it might be time to start looking more closely at their schedule and finding some breaks where they can just relax and not be running from one activity to the other.
2) Check their school grades. If their grades have declined or aren’t getting better, it’s time to make school a priority again. Although they might not want to miss an activity to study, school should always come first. After all, graduating from high school is the #1 goal.
3) Keep an eye on their sleeping habits. If your teenager is running out of time to get everything done during the day, they are likely using sleep time to complete projects. A lack of sleep can have serious consequences such as mental health problems or physical health issues. It is recommended that teens sleep for at least 9 hours, yet only 7% of kids are getting enough sleep.
4) Ask yourself if their scheduled are affecting their health. With overscheduled teens, they have little time to take care of themselves and this can affect their well-being. Research has linked chronic stress to a variety of health problems. Studies show that chronic stress many teens experience increases their risk at being anxious and depressed.
5) Do they have time for friends? Spending time with friends is important in their social development. It’s not enough for teens to just see their friends at school. Teenagers need time to be away from the rules that come with structured activities and just go out and have fun. Plus hanging out with friends helps them with communication, resolving conflict, and becoming better humans.
6) And finally, how are you? Are you exhausted from being their uber-driver or staying up late to make sure they get home safely? Are your weekends filled with all of their extra-curricular games, lessons, recitals, etc? Sometimes, it’s important for us to remember that our children are watching how we prioritize our time. It’s ok to say “no,” when you really just need some downtime yourself.
I often hear friends tell me how busy they are as if it’s some status symbol or it somehow makes them more important. Self-worth isn’t dependent on how many social media likes one gets or on how busy someone is. Your teen may be leaving for college in a few years. Now is the time to invest some quality time in being with them and making memories that will last long after their activities do.
Adena Astrowsky is a prosecutor and author of Walking among the Dead (Amsterdam Publishers, release date 3/3/20). She has received an Amazing Women award from the Phoenix Suns and National Bank of Arizona for her professional and philanthropic work. She also owns a handmade, natural soap company, Turquoise Farms. She lives in Scottsdale with her husband and three children.