Today’s teens, especially where I am in Los Angeles, are often over-scheduled and stressed out. Their schedules are packed with extracurricular activities and endless homework. Instead of getting much needed sleep every night to recharge for the next day, teens stay up late trying to finish homework and study for tests. Even the most capable high-achievers begin to crumble under the pressure. Your formerly kind, calm tween transforms into a tangled ball of stress, anxiety, irritability, and heightened emotions.
It can be difficult to step out of this environment. After all, you see how all these activities and hard work will help your child get into an awesome college. Your teen probably loves all the activities they’re involved in. Even if they don’t, your teen certainly doesn’t want to feel like they’re slacking compared to their peers; they also want to perform at these high levels. Unfortunately, lack of downtime can take a serious toll on your child’s mental health.
Be on the lookout for these six signs that your teen may be over-scheduled.
1. Almost Every Moment is Scheduled
If your teen has mostly every hour in their calendar scheduled with an extracurricular activity or school work, then you should be concerned. Sure, you want your child to be productive, but everyone needs time to relax and recharge. Make sure there’s time in your teen’s schedule where they can downtime to do whatever they feel like.
How much unscheduled time your teen needs will depend on their unique temperament. Some kids thrive with a mostly go-go-go schedule, and others will need hours of unscheduled time each day.
2. They’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
A good night’s sleep is the foundation to a good day, the following day. If your teen is so busy they can’t finish all their responsibilities during the day, their sleep is inevitably going to suffer. It’s possible that your teen doesn’t use their time efficiently enough to get all their work done in a timely manner, and it’s also possible that your teen’s inefficiency is their attempt to try and give themselves some very needed downtime and breaks during their hectic day. If your teen doesn’t have ADHD or serious executive function difficulties, your teen’s inefficiency might be a hint for a less-packed schedule.
3. They Struggle with their Health
Your teen has been getting sick more often than usual. Or perhaps they feel more lethargic than usual or are just generally feel “under the weather”. Sometimes this is because, when overscheduled, there’s no time to really take care of oneself (e.g., exercising, eating healthy, sleeping enough). Another culprit is chronic stress. Research has shown that chronic stress suppresses your immunity, making you more susceptible to colds, autoimmune disorders, and other illness. Beyond physical health suffering, chronic stress is related to depression and anxiety.
4. Their Friendships are Suffering
When most of your day is spent in a structured school setting and then participating in after-school activities and doing school-work, there isn’t much time to just hang out with friends. Believe it or not, spending casual, hang-out time with peers is crucial to your teen’s development and well-being. Research shows that having close friends is a protective factor against mental health struggles. And through unstructured time with peers, your child learns crucial skills like how to resolve conflict, communicate with others, and problem-solve.
5. Their Demeanor has Changed
If your teen used to be calm, sweet, and patient but is now irritable, anxious, and short-tempered, they may be over-scheduled. When people don’t have time to rest and recharge, it takes a major toll on their emotional well-being. This often results in what can feel like a total personality change. Sometimes the solution is as simple as freeing up your child’s schedule. However, sometimes it develops into an actual anxiety or depressive disorder. In those cases, your child will likely need professional help to return to their usual happy self.
6. You’re Super Tired, Too
If you’re tired from chauffeuring your teen around to all of their activities, chances are that they’re overwhelmed and exhausted, too. You may think, “hey, my kid is younger and has way more energy than I do!” That may be true, but they also don’t have the amazing coping skills and emotional resilience that you’ve developed over the years. Give both of you a well-deserved break and slow down.
Want some professional support for your stressed out teen? Contact Dr. Crystal I. Lee for a free 20 minute consultation to see how she can help.