7 Signs Your Teen is Overscheduled

On one end of the spectrum, some teens have way too little to do. In fact, studies show 60 percent of teenagers spend an average of 20 hours per week in front of the TV and the computer. A small minority of teens, 7 percent of them, enjoy a whopping 50 hours of screen time every week.

But, on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find teens who are really busy. They’re taking extra classes at school, working part-time jobs, playing sports, and maintaining hectic after-school schedules with little to no extra time.

And while it looks good on transcripts to say they’re the captain of the soccer team and head of the student council, for some teens, a busy schedule can be problematic. The lack of free time may take a serious toll on their physical and emotional health. 

It’s important to find just the right balance for your teen. You want him to be busy enough that he doesn’t have time to get mixed up with the wrong crowd and you want to make sure he’s not so bored that he looks for trouble. But, it’s also important to make sure he isn’t burning himself out as he runs from one activity to the next. 

In the best case scenario, a teen has overscheduled himself because he truly loves the activities in which he’s involved—but even that situation doesn’t mean that it’s a healthy decision. Keep an eye out for one of these seven signs that a teen is overscheduled and be prepared to intervene, if necessary.

1
Your Teen Never Has Downtime

Being overscheduled can be a bad thing for teens.
Jamie Grill / Getty Images

While you don’t want your teen to be too idle, a little downtime is really good for her. A little free time can help her explore a new hobby or find an exciting topic to research.

Or, it could just give her time to think. Adolescence is when young people learn about who they are as individuals and it’s an important to think about the future.

After all, the teen years are a time when many dreams are born. Everyone needs moments of quiet and relaxation. 

So ask yourself, when was the last time you saw your teen doing nothing? In other words, when did she last enjoy an activity that wasn’t mandated by someone else? 

If all you can envision is your teen heading off to play rehearsal, practicing hoops for the big game this week or studying French for hours, she might be doing too much.

2
Your Teen's Grades Have Declined

If your A-average student is now bringing home Bs and Cs, something's clearly amiss. The numbers don’t lie, and when a teen who used to maintain a 90 average on tests and papers has dropped to 80s, 70s or worse, it’s time to take a good hard look at their priorities.

Although your teen might protest, school work should come first. After all, if he can’t graduate from high school, his athletic abilities or musical talents will likely only take him so far.

So make sure your teen has plenty of time to do homework, study for tests, and be prepared for school, before you allow him to continue with other extra-curricular activities.

3
Your Teen Isn't Getting Enough Sleep

If your teen is so busy she doesn’t have time to get everything done during the day, her sleep may be the first thing to suffer. Although it’s recommended that teens get at least nine hours of sleep per night, research shows only 7 percent of kids are getting enough shut-eye. And sleep deprivation can have serious consequences.

Unfortunately, many teens fall into the trap of thinking they’ll get more done if they stay up late. But, a lack of sleep can impede productivity the following day. The less efficient she is at getting her work done, the longer it will take to get her assignments done.

If your teen doesn’t have time to get enough sleep, something has to give. A lack of sleep could lead to serious mental health problems or physical health issues. 

4
Your Teen's Health is Suffering

Being too busy can affect your teen’s health in several ways. If your teen is overscheduled, she may not have time to take care of herself, by exercising or eating healthy.  And over time, that can take a serious toll on her well-being.

The stress of having too much to do, and too little time to do it, can also take a toll on your teen’s physical and mental health. Research has linked chronic stress to a variety of health problems, ranging from decreased immunity to the common cold to increased risk of cardiovascular and autoimmune disorders.

Teens who feel a lot of pressure to get into good colleges may feel forced to fill their days with activities like tutoring and violin lessons. But studies show the chronic stress many teens experience to be overachievers increases their risk of mental health problems, like depression and anxiety.

5
Your Teen Doesn't Have Time for Friends

Between band practice, sports, play rehearsal and a part-time job, an overscheduled teen simply doesn’t have time for friends. And spending time with friends is crucial to your teen’s social development. 

And while you might think seeing his friends at school might be enough, there’s a good chance structured activities don’t leave much time for socializing.

Your teen needs an opportunity to be away from all the rules that come with structured activities. Spending time with friends away from adults is key to helping your teen learn how to resolve conflict, communicate with others, and solve problems

6
Your Teen's Days are Filled With All Work and No Fun

If your teen used to love playing the piano, yet he now procrastinates on practicing, he might be overscheduled. A too-busy teen might start saying no to even the most-fun of activities, such as sleepovers, movies with friends and joining the family for his favorite dinner. 

It’s less concerning if your teenager just isn’t in one activity anymore—he might have just outgrown it. But if nothing seems to bring him joy, then it’s time to take measures. He may be stressed out, burned out, or even depressed. 

7
You're Tired, Too

It’s exhausting to attend weekly sports games, band concerts, and other teen activities. And if you’re chauffeuring the teen around, you’re likely to spend a lot of time waiting for your teen. If you’re tired of all of the activities that your teen is doing, then there's a good chance she feels overwhelmed, too.

It's important to be a good role model for your teen. Sometimes, that means slowing down and practicing some self-care. 

Be willing to take a Saturday afternoon to relax. Or, give yourself permission to go on a weekend getaway. Show your teen that you don't always have to be busy and productive all the time.

How to Help an Overscheduled Teen

If you think your teen is too busy, it's important to take action. The first step is to sit your teen down to see how he feels. There could be a rare case where your teen simply loves all the activities! 

In other cases, he might protest at letting go of an activity or two, but slowing could be necessary for his well-being. Make the executive decision to take him out of an activity of his choosing—as long as it’s not homework or studying! He can always pick it back up in the future if he finds that he’s truly missing out. 

Keep in mind that the teen years are a vital time for your child to learn how to manage his time. If he’s struggling to find time to do everything, he’s going to need you to intervene and help him say no to certain activities.

Make sure you aren’t putting too much pressure on your child to perform. Getting him into an Ivy League school isn’t worth it if he’s so burned out that he can’t function by the time he gets there.

If your teen is really struggling to cope with the demands of adolescent life, seek professional help. Whether he’s a perfectionist, a procrastinator, or an overachiever, a mental health professional can assist him in developing healthier habits.  

Finally, keep in mind that some teens—as well as many adults—view being busy as a status symbol. Make sure your teen knows that his self-worth shouldn't depend on how busy his social calendar is. 

Sources:

American Heart Association. "Many teens spend 30 hours a week on 'screen time' during high school." ScienceDaily. 2008 March 14.

Sheldon Cohen, Denise Janicki-Deverts, William J. Doyle, Gregory E. Miller, Ellen Frank, Bruce S. Rabin, and Ronald B. Turner. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS, April 2, 2012 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1118355109

Eaton, D.K., et al. “Prevalence of insufficient, borderline, and optimal hours of sleep among high school students--United States, 2007.” Journal of Adolescent Health. 2010 Apr;46(4):399-401.

Leonard NR, Gwadz MV, Ritchie A, Linick JL, Cleland CM, Elliott L and Grethel M (2015) A multi-method exploratory study of stress, coping, and substance use among high school youth in private schools. Front. Psychol. 6:1028

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