Balancing Activities and Academics

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Kathleen GansterChildwise logoChildwise: A column for parents of children from birth to 21

By Kathleen Ganster

And so it begins…the first day of school, band practice, football practice, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, play practice, SAT prep classes, volunteer work at the local senior citizen center, student council meetings and a part-time job. And did we mention homework for all those AP classes?

When is participation in activities coupled with academics enough and when it is too much?

Just as parents may struggle with life-work balance, high school students may struggle with an academic-activities balance, said Dr. Jered Kolbert, program director of counselor education and associate professor at Duquesne University.
“Parents are in the best position to assist their child in evaluating their commitments to academic and extracurricular pursuits,” Kolbert said.
Like most issues in parenting, there isn’t a clear-cut or easy way to determine the number or what kinds of activities a child should be involved in.

“And every child is different. Some children may need to learn to how to include relaxation and enjoyment in their schedules, whereas other children need to be encouraged to demonstrate greater commitment and pride in their academics and extracurricular activities,” he said.

Role modeling is key – are you stressed out from too many activities? Your child will pick up on that issue, said Kolbert. Parents need relaxation and hobbies of their own, but have to show a balance, which may not be easy to do.

Kolbert said parents can help teens learn time management by modeling it themselves, but also by establishing specified times for activities.

Photo-Kolbert-June 2012 copy
Dr. Jered Kolbert

“Parents might encourage their children to establish routines such as having a short break upon returning home, followed by 30 minutes of school work before the next break,” he said.

“I believe one of the most effective motivation tools is to learn self-reinforcement, which involves giving yourself rewards for completing work. For example, you might check emails or use your cell phone for 15 minutes after completing a project or working for an hour,” he continued.

Kolbert explained that it is also ok to limit a child’s activities if it is starting to wear on you. A parent has a right – and indeed needs relaxation of their own.

“You can tell them you can’t take them to everything and still balance your own life,” Kolbert said.

It is important for parents to keep the line of communication open and talk to their children. And of course, academics should be the priority.

“Set firm rules. Tell you child that they have to do well academically first and foremost. They may need guidance in learning the structure to balance everything,” Kolbert said.

That isn’t to downplay the activities. Kolbert said that according to developmental theory, adolescence is a time to explore interests, abilities, values and life goals. Some teens take on

considerable commitments without evaluating whether the activities are important to them.

“If this happens, parents can help teens, over time, think about how these activities relate to their long-terms goals and interests. These conversations must involve tentative language, as teens may change considerably. The important point is that parents are encouraging teens to be self-reflective,” he explained.

Kolbert a parent of two daughters himself and a former middle school guidance counselor, said it is important to allow children to explore things he or she wants to explore, and parents may need to take a step back when it isn’t what they think the child should try.

He told the example of a young man he worked who was struggling socially and academically despite being extremely bright. His parents had both played high school basketball and wanted him to play. It wasn’t a good fit.

“I told them that they had to step back and let him figure it out. He joined the drama club and worked backstage and flourished. He had found his niche,” he said.

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