Are Teens Over-Scheduled Or Not?

I live in the very busy and very expensive Washington DC area. Traffic to anywhere and everywhere is a large concern for everyone. Due to federal government jobs as well as every branch of the military having a base in this area, the demands are high for high-demand schools. I’ve been serving in youth ministry in this area for 26 years. This has led me to call out and name the stress of overscheduled teens and change how I do youth ministry to bless these overscheduled teens.

Overscheduled teens are real. Moms as seemingly full-time taxi drivers are real.

Somehow I stumbled upon a 2008 pdf report from Child Trends that surmises that this overscheduled crisis is really a myth. Their research, which includes collecting other research, found that less than one in ten teens could be described as overscheduled. Also that only six out of ten children and teens participate in extracurricular activities at any given time and that most report positive outcomes socially, psychologically, and behaviorally. Among those who do participate in all these extracurriculars (which includes youth group), the average is less than ten hours per week with those commitments. A very small percentage of 3% to 6% spends 20+ hours per week participating.

Yes, it is dated 2008—6 years ago. But I still cannot let this good research go. Are teens over-scheduled or not?

Child Trend’s summary is “Data indicate that few children could be described as ‘over-committed.’ Instead, many children benefit from safe, constructive alternatives to potentially unsupervised free time. And other children could benefit from participation in such activities, since the evidence indicates that participation can contribute to the social, mental, and physical well-being of children and provide them with useful skills. Additionally, studies of high-risk youth show that a lack of participation in organized out-of-school activities contributes to poor academic performance, high rates of obesity, school dropout, and crime. Research shows that academic performance and emotional stability levels off or declines after extracurricular involvement beyond twenty hours per week. However, for high-risk youth, even a high amount of participation could be a welcome alternative to spending time in out-of-school settings that lack adult supervision or opportunities to improve themselves. The research illustrating the positive outcomes of participation in organized out-of-school activities tells us that we should direct our focus not to the few children and youth who are over-scheduled, but rather to
those who do not participate at all.”

I respect research. This research does not appeared skewed or in need of an agenda. But I just don’t see this. I see busy teenagers and busy taxi-driving moms. Is this something true just for my area?

Yet in my school that I substitute teach at I do see this report as being true. It is an urban-suburban school. I see the drug corner on my drive to that school. Oh how I HATE drug corners! The one reason I love this school so much is that I know each student is safe in that school building and this principal has collected an excellent group of teachers who know how to reach these kinds of kids. Each student at my school has a chance to not end up on that drug corner. Thusly I can see the benefit that extracurricular activities can have on these kids. It gives them yet another chance to not end up on that drug corner.

So is the overscheduled teen only a reality of the affluent? My church is suburban and falls into that affluent culture. Has affluency done this to teens?

Then “coincidentally” I read this new article from NY Magazine. The writer blames the overscheduling on why there is an increase in binge drinking. “If a teenager wants to succeed in the ever more competitive college admissions game (in the hopes of succeeding in the ever more competitive job market), she won’t get much practice filling unstructured leisure time until she arrives on campus. College binge-drinking is the first way I learned to differentiate between work and not-work, at least. Between high school, homework, my paid job, and standardized test prep, I barely had free time as a teenager. More important, by the time I got to high school, all of my hobbies and interests had become worklike — competitive, résumé-boosting extracurricular activities. I got to college burned out and lonely. I spent most of my free time freshman year wondering what everyone else was doing, and whether I should be working. The only way I knew I definitely wasn’t working was if I were drinking.”

So the overscheduled problem is not a myth and is now proven true. Especially because college binge drinking is way up. Read more of that NY Magazine article for more horrifying stories.

Or is it a myth?

I have no answers. Do you? I wrestle with this because it does affect my decisions in leading a youth ministry. Do you?

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About Be Brave

Brenda Seefeldt began life in youth ministry in 1981. That is before the internet, YouTube, texting and even before PowerPoint. (But it was after flannel boards.) Brenda has written and shared much of what she has learned through the resource of Wild Frontier and in many youth ministry publications as she continues on in youth ministry. Brenda is a brave one. She stutters yet is a national speaker. She loves teaching so much she’s also been a substitute teacher for over 20 years. She’s brave enough to enter any classroom at a middle school. She also simply loves teaching groups, whether they are teens or adults. Due to the many years of youth ministry, Brenda has “coached” many grown teens in dating. She finds herself very opinionated on that with lots to share. Brenda loves her God-given family–four sons and 4 grandchildren. They are God-given, not birthed. That alone is a brave story, one she tells here and there as the story really belongs to her sons.

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