Teens Today Have Less Free Time Than Ever Before

| by Dr Gwenn

It’s interesting to sometimes be a fly on the wall when trekking teens around town. I do that a great deal and recently learned some interesting tidbits:

1. As the Fall sports season ended, a couple of the Freshman were hoping to look into some of the clubs offered at the High School but were told by their parents they couldn’t – they had to take “a sport a season”.

2. After a recent gathering of teens girls that ended in a sleepover, the first time the girls had been able to gather this school year due to their differing schedules, a couple of the girls woke up in a sudden panic over homework, ending the sleepover 2 hours earlier than planned and very abruptly.

I could fill up an entire blog this year with anecdotes like this. Teens today are finding they have less control over their after school and free time than ever before and the impact is starting to catch up with them.

I’ve already discussed the homework issue. It’s clearly out of control. When homework starts interfering with normal teenage life, it’s time all adults start admitting there’s an issue.

Of equal concern is the power play going on between some parents and their teens leading to parents choosing their teens activities instead of their teens having any voice at all.

Power play? You bet. This is about parents trying to predetermine a path for their teens to get to the next phase in life – college, and likely a college scholarship. However, data has been clear this doesn’t work at all and puts so much pressure on the teen that it uniformly fails. Not only are the scholarship bucks just not there but the teens who do get them, whether in academics, sports or the arts, have a much better chance of grabbing that scholarship if they arrive at it by their own hard work and from their own inner passion for the activity.

The high school years are about teen exploration, not parental predetermination of activities and time management. This is the time for teens to try on new activities and determine what fires them up. Parents should offer guidance and be a teen’s ultimate cheering squad…not their coach or their scheduler.

Here are the big issues to consider with teens in high school:

1. Teens need a variety of activities in high school, not just team sports.

2. Parents pushing kids into sports with a dream of scholarships are deluding themselves and putting undue pressure on their child – as I recently mentioned, those scholarships are few and far between.

3. High school activity choice must been teen driven. Parents who lose site of that are not missing the point of what these years are about and not respecting their child’s need to explore interests and skills.

4. Parents pushing kids in sports thinking the sport will provide “exercise” don’t understand what team sports do and don’t do.

5. Team sports are a huge time commitment. A teen should be 100% committed to that sport to make that commitment and that decision needs to be teen driven, not parent driven.

6. Teens need an off season from team sports during school and an on season for other activities to be well rounded. If a parent is concerned about college entry, this is the path to take, not the all sports path!

7. If a teen is expressing a direct interest in an activity, sports, music, club or otherwise, it’s our job as parents to encourage that activity and not put pressure on the teen to follow our alternative suggestion.

8. This is our teen’s childhood, not ours!

The teen years are a growth process for parent and teen. While the teen is struggling with hormones and learning to be independent, the parent has to struggle with seeing their once young child become an almost grown up. The role of the parent changes and that can be incredibly unsettling. It’s natural to dig in and want to “reclaim” your authority, so to speak, but that’s the opposite of what your teen needs during the high school years from you.

Instead, you have to learn to sit back more….to guide and learn to look at the direction your teen is starting to go in. You have to be willing to nurture that direction and encourage the activities your teen wants to pursue. You may not always “agree” but that’s not your job. Your job now is to help your teen find your teen’s path…the path that will lead to the next phase in life.

Remember, this is your teen’s life and it may not lead to the life you picture for your teen but did your life end up as your parent’s pictured? I didn’t think so!