High School Activities Have Become “All or Nothing” and It’s Unacceptable

I was what you called a “well rounded” high school student. I had good grades, I participated in activities and clubs and I was the captain of our Color Guard. I attended dances and football games and I still had time to fool around with my friends on Saturday nights.

Somehow, I managed to participate in honor society meetings and I found time to do my homework before I watched shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 while I yapped with my best friend on my pink princess phone.

I had it all in high school: the perfect school-life balance and I look back on those years and smile at all of the diverse activities I was able to participate in because, back then, I wasn’t expected to devote 25 hours a week to a specific activity.

I wasn’t expected to choose between band front and the school play.

I wasn’t expected to choose between taking an AP class and an elective class.

And, I wasn’t expected to choose a school activity over family time.

Because parents back then somehow seemed to know what parents today have a tough time grasping: high school kids need lives that go beyond spending double digit hours practicing sports and activities.

High school activities are are "all or nothing"
High Schools students are stretched thin with activities. (Rawpixel.com/ Shutterstock)

More specifically, high school kids deserve to have lives filled with rich experiences, rather than tough choices and long hours spent at practices and rehearsals.

My son was recently cast as a lead in his high school’s theater production. Before he auditioned, he told his director of a conflict prior to opening night: our family had a previously planned vacation and he’d be unable to attend a few rehearsals leading up to the show. He was allowed to audition and, upon receiving news that he’d scored the lead, we were ecstatic.

Until the director emailed later in the morning to say, in fact, that our son would have to choose between his role in the play and our family vacation.

Let that sink in.

Our son was asked to choose between spending time with his family and committing to a school activity. The director actually suggested that, perhaps, we could leave our son with a family friend while we traveled so he could meet his mandatory rehearsal requirements. Oh, well, problem solved then, right?

Wrong. So very wrong.

It was an “all or nothing” situation: either we changed our trip so he could attend rehearsals or he had to give up his role. There was no in between, no compromise.

Against our better judgment and much to my annoyance, my husband and I chose to reschedule our family trip in favor of our son being able to participate in an activity that he loves.

And it made me furious that this is our parenting norm.

My son is fifteen and he has committed to almost 20 hours a week of rehearsal and set building, on top of AP and honors classes with hours of homework. Oh, and he can kiss Boy Scouts goodbye during rehearsals: his theater schedule doesn’t allow for him to be able to attend meetings. And track is completely out of the question, too.

All or nothing. That’s how it is now for teens.

When my husband and I attended our son’s high school Back to School night, his history teacher had written the number “168” in large print on the whiteboard.

“We all have 168 hours in a week,” he said pointedly, “Your kids included.”

He reminded us that we have 168 hours where we have to cram jobs, families, social gatherings and housekeeping responsibilities into our days.

And then he asked us to take a good long look at how our teens are spending their 168-hour weeks.

He told us to examine how much time our teens spend on homework. And band practice. And soccer. And all of the other activities that now require ungodly amounts of time during the week.

He asked us simply, “How many hours a night is your kid sleeping?” When he asked us how much time our teens spend simply laying around, watching TV or reading a book for pleasure, my heart sank.

As he talked, the number “168” put everything in perspective for me.

How is it that we, the generation that really did “have it all” in high school, are seemingly okay with pushing our teens to the brink?

Sure, we can say things like, “Oh, but he loves playing basketball!” and “She’s so dedicated to her dance skills!” but, really, let’s face it: we aren’t the ones drawing the line in the sand, demanding that our kids have a better school life balance.

We aren’t the ones raising holy hell at the theater directors who can’t seem to understand that high school kids are running out of time to spend quality time with their families because college is looming.

We aren’t the ones who are questioning band directors who choose attend competitions that are hours away and are returning our kids to darkened parking lots at 1 am.

We are allowing our kids to be pushed to the limit.

Even science says so.

In her research paper entitled, “The High Price of Affluence,” clinical psychologist Suniya S. Luthar explores the relationship between overscheduling and stress and anxiety in affluent teens. Her research found that overscheduling can lead to issues with drugs and alcohol, suicide and depression as well as “overscheduling hyperactivity” where teens are unable to unwind from their busy lives.

Luthar cites a New York Times article that states,

Parents feel pressure to find constructive ways for their children to spend the hours after school, as well as to help their children keep up in the increasingly competitive universe of grade school, college admissions and college scholarships.

Parents, what if we stopped putting pressure on our exhausted kids and instead started leaning on their teachers, coaches and instructors to cut back on long practices and rehearsals?

What if we opened a dialogue with principals and administrators aimed at helping our kids find a happy medium?

168 hours.

How is your kid spending his 168 hours?

My guess is you’ll be shocked when you do the math.

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About Christine Burke

Christine Burke is the owner of the popular parenting blog, Keeper of The Fruit Loops. Her work has been featured on the Today Show, The Girlfriend, Scary Mommy, and other parenting websites. She writes about the realities of soon sending her not-so-little -anymore kids off to college and prays she doesn’t use too many comma splices in the process.

Read more posts by Christine

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