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Teens Doing Too Much?

Some teens today are doing so much, they stress themselves out to the point of, well, engaging in unhealthy behavior. Is this “new” though, or just something a lot of teens have done (and it’s simply now getting more attention)? The Washington Post has the story earlier this week.

It’s hard to say for certain whether teen over-scheduling is an increasing trend, since there are very few lifestyle surveys of teens across decades (the only data that could reliably answer such a question). However, one study mentioned near the end of the article (that’s always the place they put the dissenting data that calls into question the value of the entire article!), does provide some context:

In 2006, around the time that the pediatrics group issued its warning, psychologist Joseph L. Mahoney, then an associate professor at Yale, and two colleagues published a study debunking what they called “the over-scheduling myth.”

Based on an analysis of previous research, Mahoney’s team concluded that fewer than one in 10 youths could be described as over-scheduled and that 40 percent did not participate in any organized activities. Teenagers who did participate averaged fewer than 10 hours per week, Mahoney reported, while fewer than 6 percent devoted 20 hours or more to extracurricular activities. The researchers also challenged the notions that parental pressure was to blame for over-scheduling and that a lack of free time caused undue stress.

Anecdotally, we can all remember our own teenage years, and how some of our friends or people we knew seemed always to be doing something.

I fell somewhere in-between. I wasn’t a complete slacker, but I also didn’t join every club or after-school activity I could. I ensured I kept some time free, but even then, there were definitely times I felt overwhelmed by all the commitments I had made.

In the article, the writer notes how some teens drive themselves right into therapy with their packed schedules, and they do so to please their parents:

The toxic combination of perfectionism and over-scheduling can lead to excesses such as those seen by University of Pennsylvania adolescent medicine specialist Kenneth Ginsburg, author of the AAP recommendations. Ginsburg said his patients have included a teenager who had started studying for the SATs at age 11 and high school students whose parents told them they “didn’t need to bother to go to college” if they didn’t get into either Harvard or Yale, schools that last year reported record-low acceptance rates hovering around 8 percent.

Sometimes, he noted, teenagers who say they can’t imagine life without a packed schedule and profess to “love” hours of extracurricular activities are really afraid of disappointing their parents by opting out or scaling back.

The irony of this, however, is that most parents don’t really have a set agenda for their kids’ lives. (Some do, and those parents should stop trying to live their lives through their kids.) They just want their children to be happy. But somewhat mistakenly, some parents believe that they need — i.e., it is their responsibility as a parent — to try and expose their child to as many “opportunities” as possible. “Let’s sign up little Johnny for softball! Let’s sign him up for soccer! Oh, he enjoyed going to the show, maybe he wants to sing, and dance, and…” You get the picture.

There is a balance there that needs to be found. Sure, giving your children the opportunity to experience a wide range of activities is potentially beneficial. But don’t take it too far, because kids need to be kids first and foremost. They can always learn or discover a talent later on in life too — childhood isn’t the only time we learn activities.

Because what happens in many cases is that a child learns their parent always wants them to not just “do well,” but “exceed expectations,” to “excel” in everything they do. And as they become a teenager, that work ethic turns into a nightmare in trying to balance 3 or 4 social activites and hobbies with clubs and academic pressures, and sports, and friends, and still have time to enjoy life. Teens don’t need to excel. They need to find a place in life that feels right, to explore who they are, what they like, and what relationships are all about. A few activities helps a teen explore and enjoy the things they like to do, but too many and it can quickly feel like pressure they don’t need nor want.

So over-scheduling may be a problem for some youths, but by and large, most teens understand the need for some balance in their lives, even if they don’t always succeed in finding it.

Teens, know your limitations and learn to prioritize what’s most important to you (versus something you might be doing that you no longer enjoy or care for). Parents, don’t pressure your teens into doing stuff that you think they enjoy (but that they really don’t). Listen to them if they say to you, “Hey, I don’t think I’m going to go out this year for the team.” It doesn’t make them a quitter, it makes them a wise pragmatist who is beginning to find their way in the world.

Read the full article: Too-Busy Teens Feel Health Toll

Teens Doing Too Much?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Teens Doing Too Much?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 18 Jul 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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