Your teen has the next 20 years meticulously mapped out — except time for fun. Can you force a teenager to stop and smell the roses?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
I still vividly remember my dad coming up to my room during spring break of my junior or senior year in college. "A nose to the grindstone only leads to a sharp nose," he told me, as he yanked me out to a movie. I protested because I have never been good at fun. And when I sink back into my too-serious ways, I always hear his voice trying to budge me. Human nature is such, even for heavy hearts, that fun demands to be found, and will be found.
It's difficult to force a teen to do anything, even so much as get a haircut. The best way to motivate teens to find balance in life is to provide options such as indoor and outdoor sports; point out school clubs, activities and community service programs that relate to their chosen career; and take them away from the humdrum routine of home/school life by planning fun, adventurous vacations.
Don't bother. As we all know, even 20-hour plans have a way of falling apart. Let them plan all they want. Just be there to support the kid when things don't go according to, you know. It could be your teen didn't plan for fun because, when you're a teen, fun is assumed.
If balance doesn't appear to claim a spot on your child's priority list, you should take action.
"Kids are under too much pressure, and we need to turn the heat down," says clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg, co-author of "Teenage as a Second Language: A Parent's Guide to Becoming Bilingual" (Adams Media). "Parents have to be really careful about what message we're sending our kids — whether it's keep up with the other kids, take the most challenging classes, get into the best college or something else."
We should be mindful, in other words, of how we define success for them.
"The most successful people in this lifetime are not necessarily the people who got straight A's," Greenberg says. "Good social skills and learning how to be with people will put them in a much better position in life."
Stress the importance of physical activity, fun with friends and cultivating relationships as much as you stress academic and resume-building pursuits, says Greenberg, who also blogs at talkingteenage.com.
"I even suggest parents limit the amount of time kids study," she says. "Kids are already sleep-deprived. They shouldn't be up until 2 or 3 in the morning studying. Nothing comes of that but mono."
Consider setting a cutoff time, such as 10 p.m., beyond which homework is off-limits.
"It might make your child more efficient," Greenberg says. "If they know they have to finish by 10, they may spend less time on Facebook or communicating with friends and just get their work done."
When you ask them about their day, include questions about what they did for exercise and fun and companionship.
"Some kids lose the ability to just be comfortable with themselves and the ability to not feel like they have to be productive constantly," she says. "They need to learn that life isn't just all about success occupationally. It's about success in relationships."
If you need to appeal to the goal-seeker in your kid, offer this perspective: "If you've got two people with equal resumes and equal credentials, you're going to hire the one who's funnier, who you get along with better," Greenberg says. "Social skills are becoming a really remarkable thing to have on the job market."
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