Being overscheduled has become so much a part of our culture that kids don’t know what it’s like to be still and free of pressure—even for a few moments. Let’s listen to an overscheduled teen who sat in my counseling office and told her story.
Uncontrolled sobbing shook her small frame. Several minutes passed. I moved the trash closer so she could deposit the used tissues. Finally, her crying changed to hiccups. She looked up at me. “I’m sorry. I’ll buy you more tissues. And now—these hiccups.”
“Don’t worry. This office is a designated cry zone, and I know where to get more tissues.”
Jasmine sat with her head down while dry sobs and hiccups intermingled until I couldn’t tell them apart. As the physical manifestations of a long cry slowed, she got up to look at her reflection in the mirror. “OMG.”
“We’ll talk a while; then I’ll give you a pass to the restroom to straighten your makeup before you go back to class. Want to tell me what’s going on?”
“I can’t do it anymore.”
I thought I knew what she meant, but I leaned closer. “Do what, Jasmine?”
“My schedule. There is not a minute in my life to be me. I’m an honors student, a band member, a basketball guard, a soloist in the choir, and everything else. When do I get to do something for me?”
“That schedule sounds oppressive. I can change some classes and lighten your load. What would you like to do?”
Jasmine cried again when she told me there was nothing she could drop. Her parents’ and her expectations required her to have the schedule that was killing her.
We talked a while longer and decided to get her parents involved. She called them so we could set up a meeting. With a conference scheduled, her breathing slowly returned to normal. I could almost see burdens falling off her shoulders and landing at her feet. She sighed deeply. “I feel better.”
The Results of Overscheduling
Overscheduled kids are in trouble. Depression is rampant. Sleep deprivation leads to health problems. Sexual promiscuity, drug use, cutting—these are only a few of the crutches they use to ease their pain. Unattainable expectations from self and parents add to the stress. Kids load up on the courses that offer higher grade points so they can raise their class rank and meet high expectations.
Is There an Answer?
So what can parents do? If they wanted to give kids some unstructured time, where would they begin? Would kids embrace a lighter schedule, or would they be afraid to cut back their activity load? Is there a happy medium? These are some questions that need answers. And there are answers, one of which is embraced by author Rachel Garlinghouse in her article for Huffington Post, “The Best Gifts I Can Give My Children to Ensure Their Success.”
In my next blog, we will look at the kind of schedule that would give kids some breathing room.