Few people question the importance of extracurricular activities in the lives of adolescents. Such pursuits provide social, academic, travel and athletic opportunities. They instill discipline, cooperation, confidence and other positive qualities. Plus, their structured nature can get some wayward kids back on track. The problem, however, is too many teens seem to be overdoing it.

While statistics on the busy teen phenomenon are elusive, both parents and therapists report a huge increase in teens who are overscheduled, overextended and overtired.

It’s not uncommon for today’s teens to attend their first practice for a performance or sporting event before the school day begins. Then following a full day at school, they have additional practices, classes and club meetings lasting well into the evening. When they finally do return home, they have at least a couple hours of homework to do before going to bed.

It’s an exhausting schedule that over the long run can cause mental and physical health issues, ranging from depression to injury.

The pressure for teens to take on too much comes from many sources. It can come from a drive to get into a certain university, parents who want their children to have the opportunities they wished for themselves, or a desire to fit in with peers.

Whatever the case, it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep it under control. As your child’s interests grow, add extracurricular activities slowly. Give your child time to adjust and see the impact on his or her schedule and stress level before adding more.

As you do so, it’s important to listen to cues about how they view themselves in the context of these activities. Do they see themselves without choice in the matter? Is their identity tied to their performance? Remember, teens should be involved in extracurricular activities because they enjoy them, not because they feel pressured to do them.

You can also help your adolescents by making sure they get enough rest. It can be hard to let your teens sleep until noon on weekends, but understanding that’s what their growing bodies need for healthy physical and emotional development can help.

If, despite your best efforts, your busy teen shows sudden or marked changes in appetite, moods, sleeping patterns or grades, it’s probably time to make changes. Talk with your child about his or her schedule and determine together what can be eliminated to make life enjoyable once again.

Of course, all this advice applies just as easily to all family members, including parents. Outside activities are meant to help you feel fulfilled and connected. They’re about adding pleasure and meaning to life, not depleting happiness.

By modeling your own life around this belief and facilitating the same for your children, you’ll be teaching them valuable life lessons — ultimately helping them grow into the successful, well-adjusted adults you intend them to be.

As published in the September 2005 Edition of the Holmen Courier and Onalaska Community Life.