Health & Family

Balance kids' activities with time to relax

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from “What Every 21st-Century Parent Needs To Know,” by Debra W. Haffner. Reprinted by permission from Newmarket Press, www.newmarketpress .com.

There is no doubt that most of us, including our children, are leading busy and full lives. But children and teenagers are often portrayed as overscheduled, overstressed and over-parented. Despite the media stories and our concerns about how stressed our children and teens are, most studies report that young people feel good about themselves, good about their parents and happy about their lives.

Contrary to media warnings about the “overscheduled child,” research shows that involvement in a diverse array of activities may actually be beneficial to children and teens, including helping children develop social skills, improve their relationships with peers and adults and improve their academic scores.

Extracurricular activities lead to higher self-esteem, lower alcohol and substance use, and higher social competency. In fact, according to research by the Search Institute, high-functioning teens spend more than 17 hours a week in sports, creative activities, youth programs and religious institutions each week.

Tips for parents to help their children achieve balance:

Know your own child.

Some children need encouragement to do much of anything outside of school; some children need to be encouraged to cut back. Some families have set a guideline of two organized activities a week outside of school and church. Some children need to be encouraged to reach that goal; others need help keeping it down to that.

Give your children downtime.

They need time to write, play, think, daydream, fantasize and be creative. Allowing your child to feel and deal with boredom is a good thing. It is OK for kids to do nothing. I have always asked my children not to use the expression “I'm bored.” I point out that they have the ability to create activities for themselves, or simply to sit, listen to music and daydream. It's good for children and teens to spend downtime with their parents just relaxing and being together.

Be a good “sport.”

Teach them that winning is not the primary focus of being on a sports team. More important, sports can teach children teamwork, get them needed physical activity and offer them a sense of belonging. Parents should support their child's involvement in activities that children (not parents) choose, be happy for their children's successes and supportive of their losses, and not criticize or try to improve their children's performances. Leave that to the coaches.

Stay involved, stay connected and set limits.

Despite all the reports of over-involvement by parents, the irony is that too many parents are under-involved, both logistically and emotionally. It is our responsibility as parents to help set the limits for our children both for outside activities and in our homes. We need to stay connected and involved enough to know when our children might be feeling overwhelmed, under pressure or simply stressed-out. But what every 21st-century parent needs to know is that sometimes it's pressure from parents that is causing our children and teens to feel overstressed. Let's lighten up and enjoy this time together.