Advice From Our Experts

How to Tell if Your Teen is Over-Scheduled

As my children have become teenagers, I have noticed that their activities and time commitments have also increased. Today, my teens have a daily itinerary that starts at 5:30 a.m. and concludes at midnight. Between school, sports and their band commitments, their packed schedules leave little room for relaxation and much opportunity to crack under pressure. Parents need to find ways to reduce the factors that are worrying their teens and look for symptoms of stress overload such as physical ailments, changes in sleeping patterns, panic attacks or depression.

Overscheduling is a big source of school stress. Many high school students enroll in more honors or advanced-placement courses than they can handle, and then pile extracurricular activities on top. Kids are so consistently worried about keeping up with what’s next that it’s hard to sit down and say, “I’m stressed out!” Even elementary students can be overscheduled. Continue reading below...Part of the challenge is to teach them to strike a balance between school work and play. If your child feels stressed and overwhelmed, look for ways to cut back on school work and extracurricular activities.

Encourage sleep, exercise and family mealtimes

Academic stress on your children has been linked to a serious problem of sleep deprivation. It's not unusual for 30 or 40 percent of students to get 6 hours of sleep a night or less. Almost none are getting the required 9 ½ hours that an adolescent needs.

Exercise can help cope with stress. It’s going to help your kids if they are being physically active. Family time is also crucial for cushioning stress. In the past we all had family meals around a table with no TV or smart phones. Fast forward to today when it’s not as likely to happen anymore. Mealtimes are a way to connect with your child; try sitting down together for a minimum of 20 minutes at least 4 to 5 times a week. Listen to your children, and communicate with them.

School pressure

Teenagers often feel stressed about academic and extracurricular demands. Students feel pressure to complete daily classwork and homework assignments, finish projects, study for exams. In addition, teens may also participate in extracurricular activities, such as band, sports, student council, and clubs. These may contribute to teenage stress and anxiety if the activities are competitive and require scheduling that cuts into study and relaxation time. Be mindful of your teen’s academic and recreational obligations to ensure they are not taking on too many responsibilities.

Achieving balance

The key word in sorting out a busy child’s schedule is balance. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that a child's well-being depends on living fully in the present as well as preparing for the future. Balance is achieved through a blend of unstructured play, child-centered organized activities and rich parent-child interaction.

  • Decide how much and what to cut back to achieve balance.


For example, your child is signed up for five different activities and it just is not working because he or she is tired or irritable. Just cut these down to three activities at any one time, but let them choose. A good question to ask: What is the activity’s real purpose? If it’s because everyone else is doing it, are the social benefits enough to offset the loss of free time? Another relevant question: Does my child truly enjoy the activity now? The ballerina who loved The Nutcracker and wore her pink tutu to bed at age 6 may be more interested in guitar than toe shoes at age 10.

  • Drop the inquisition.

When your teen walks in from school, your first question should not be “How did you do on your math test?’ Instead, try asking “How was your day?” I usually get nothing more than “Fine,” and that is okay. Many kids just need a break after school.

In closing, if your teen wants to add a club, sport or class, ask them to add up the time it takes to do each thing in their day, including homework, eating, sleeping and socializing. If they are signing up for too many hours in a day, it should be clear that this just isn't going to work. It’s a better idea not to add more activities to their schedule but instead, meet with the teacher and your teen to find solutions. In the end, just teach them to chill! Some kids turn to non-healthy coping measures, but have yet to learn the magic of exercise, music and other forms of downtime.

Exercise for Mood and Anxiety, Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being, by Michael W. Otto, PhD, and Jasper A.J. Smits, PhD, Oxford University Press, 2011