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Helping Your Daughter Find Balance

Michelle Kees, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, University of Michigan.How are the teen years today different from the past?

There are more activities for children to take part in today. Many communities have recreation and education departments which can offer everything from dance classes to group hiking trips. There are extramural sports teams and even more school based activities than ever before.

In the past, many of these activities were not open to all children because their families couldn’t afford them. Now, most are affordable, which means more children can take part. Some examples of affordable activities include academic games or teams such as Scholar Bowl and running groups like Girls on the Run.

What reasons do children give for being involved in so many activities?

The reasons children give are mostly social. Many children say they enjoy being with friends who are also taking part in these activities. Others simply like doing a variety of things. There is quite a bit of social pressure these days to participate in many activities. People will often ask children, “What do you do?”

Why is it important to balance activities with free time?

Extracurricular activities are a great way to build abilities and social skills. But it is important for children to have balance. Children need to develop socially and learn to foster relationships in other areas. If every minute of every day is scheduled, a child won’t be able to connect with friends and family in a meaningful way. The end result is that her relationships will have less depth.

How can parents help their children find balance?

Keep in mind that each child’s ideal balance point is different. Some children thrive on heavy activity, while others don’t.

It’s important for parents to have a strong relationship with their children. If you know your child well, you will be able to tell if your child is likely to enjoy an activity. You’ll be able to figure out if your child has the energy level for a certain activity or sport or if she can handle the commitment involved.

What might happen to a child who is over-scheduled?

A child who is over-scheduled may start to complain about her activities. She may start making excuses to get out of going to the activity. Or you may notice that she doesn’t seem to enjoy the activity like she used to.

On the other hand, a child could start taking her activities too seriously. She may think about her activity all the time or get mad if things don’t go right.

Warning signs of a problem may include:

  • headaches or stomachaches
  • grades slipping
  • withdrawal
  • not enjoying friends and family as much
  • trouble sleeping

Any time there is a change in a child’s behavior, parents should try to find out what is going on.

What would you recommend parents do if their child is showing any of these signs?

Use this as an opportunity to talk to your child. Ideally, parents should work on building good relationships with their children starting at a young age. The key is to talk to your children often. Even if it’s just a short chat when you’re driving to soccer practice or making dinner together. If you talk often, your children will feel more at ease talking to you.

Parents and children can sit down and review the family’s schedule together. Ask questions like “Why am I doing this? Is this meaningful? Is it fun? Is it making me or my child feel stressed?” If any of these activities are causing you or your daughter stress or worry, you may want to reconsider some of your family’s activities.

Parents need to know that it’s okay to limit their children’s activities. It’s fine to limit each child to two or three activities. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy to benefit your child.

Set aside time for the family to get together. Do things just to be together. It’s okay to not always be productive, to have some free, unstructured time. Go on a walk or play a game as a family.

Source: Michelle Kees, PhD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Medical School and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, University of Michigan


Content last reviewed November 11, 2007
Page last updated October 31, 2013