Being a high school student isn’t easy. Homework and tests can be overwhelming. After-school activities like sports, clubs and music offer fun challenges, but also involve more time commitments. Fitting friends and family into the day can be a scheduling nightmare.
Plus, many teens have part-time jobs, either to earn money or to develop new skills. It’s no wonder many students struggle with balancing the different parts of their lives.
Finding the right balance is possible, though. Learning some strategies now to juggle all their responsibilities can help students become happy, healthy adults.
Having a balance in life is as important for teenagers as it is for adults, says Mary Beth Klotz. She is a school psychologist and a project director for the National Association of School Psychologists.
“Establishing good habits, problem-solving skills and stress-busting strategies can help you all life long,” she says. Klotz says students are faced with a lot of pressure to succeed, especially those who attend a school with rigorous academic standards.
She suggests that teens sit down with a parent or counselor and look at their schedule for an entire week, including the hours that should be spent sleeping. This can help determine whether the student’s goals are realistic, or if something needs to be dropped or scaled back.
Klotz recommends that students find a “stress buster” that works for them, whether it’s a physical activity or a creative outlet like pottery, and make that part of their regular routine.
Less is more
Douglas Agar says finding balance in life is like following a healthy diet. He is the president of a school psychologist association. He stresses the importance of moderation.
To stay fit, you don’t want to go to the extremes of cutting out everything or eating only one type of food. Instead, you eat several different types of foods in moderation. Similarly, he says, students seeking balance in their lives should keep doing all the activities that keep them interested and motivated, but not spend so much time on them that they aren’t fun anymore. He says this is a good lesson not just for teens, but also for adults.
“Life is becoming more and more demanding for us, so if we can find ways to pare back without feeling like we’re losing out, in the long run, doing less is actually doing more,” Agar says.
What are some signs that a teen’s life is out of balance? “[Students] just become overwhelmed, frustrated and start having anxiety issues about not meeting the expectations their parents might have of them, or they have of themselves. Fears of inadequacy propel the cycle further,” he says.
Agar says teens often feel that they don’t have enough time to do things they want to do. Parents, on the other hand, often worry that their kids either have too much homework or not enough.
If students can maintain good grades while also spending time with friends and working or participating in activities, that’s a good sign that they are achieving a balance. If they are spending more than five hours a night on homework and are losing sleep trying to keep up with all their responsibilities, Agar says, they may need adult guidance.
Everyone has different needs
Julie Hartline says finding a balance is different for each student. She is a counselor at a high school which has about 2,200 students in Grades 9 to 12.
Hartline says students who did well in middle school have to learn how to meet the increased academic demands of high school, while also juggling a busier social life. Her school also has a large number of students from lower income families. Many of these students work part time to help their families, and they often struggle to find the time to do their homework and keep a job.
“They may be falling asleep in class because they stay up late, or they may be missing days, or their grades may start to decline. Those are definitely signs they may need help with the balance,” Hartline says.
“That goes for the opposite end as well — a student who’s not having to work but is trying to be involved with different things. They may also see a struggle with grades.”
Hartline says some students devote too much time to academics and don’t make time for other activities. This could be a sign that the teen needs help with organization and study skills, or that the teen is taking too many advanced classes.
Hartline says teens don’t often seek out help by themselves. Usually, she meets with them after a parent or teacher has raised a concern. But she encourages students to reach out to someone, whether it’s a parent, counselor or friend, before they become too overwhelmed. Then they can work together on a solution.