Mind & Spirit

Parenting teenagers: How to help them find balance outside of school

©iStockphoto.com/Kilikpela's Aperture Studio Photography Inc. Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/Kilikpela's Aperture Studio Photography Inc.

Mind & Spirit

Parenting teenagers: How to help them find balance outside of school

More personal freedom, better purchasing power, and a stronger ability to focus means that teens can pursue their hobbies, interests and extracurricular activities with vigour. Some teens build on interests they developed as children, but many teens jump on new hobbies and activities. Whatever they choose, they gain a deep sense of self-worth and expand their knowledge base with leisure pursuits that they choose for themselves.

Parenting teenagers: How to help them find balance outside of school
Parents may believe that their young teens neither want nor require their support and encouragement as they pursue new hobbies. But, in fact, parental support is still necessary and important. Even when he seems to suffer acute embarrassment just walking down the street with you, you are still the most important adult in your teenager's life. Although your teen may not articulate it, she still wants you as a cheerleader on the sidelines.

Foster your teen's talents and hobbies
Your encouragement may only take the form of driving him to and from band practice without griping, attending his concerts with wild applause, or a private "I'm so proud of the way you've been practising that difficult piece, and it's really paying off -- you're sounding great!" Encouragement can also be a resolute affirmation of a child's potential when she develops cold feet at the doorstep of the art studio on the first day of class.

But try not to step over the line into coercion. It will create resentment and possibly a lifelong aversion to the activity. You should share your expectations about your investment in and your teen's commitment to particular activities, but activities should enrich a child's life, not become a resented chore. Both parents and teens should feel free to change situations that turn out to be less than expected.

Encourage your teen to be active
You might be faced with the worrisome prospect of a youngster devoting fewer hours to once-enjoyed activities and more time just hanging out with friends. While you may view this as little more than a time-waster, refrain from comment. A teen who previously filled several evenings week with different activities sometimes hits an age when she decide to drop everything. Don't push, but let her know that she can try something new when she's ready.

Be a good role model for your kids
Teens need to see the good example of their parents choosing to spend time in active physical pursuits as well as quieter leisure interests like gardening or reading. Teens need exposure to a wide range of interests in order to find ones they like. Community associations and family clubs like the YMCA offer a variety of activities for all age groups. Their fee structure may vary, but teen rates are often about half the adult rate. Fees for youths (age thirteen to nineteen) range from $25 to $35 per month.

Most municipal recreation programs are even cheaper. If cost is an issue, such community service groups as the Lions Club, Rotary International, and the Kinsmen might be willing to help fund youth activities under certain circumstances. Contact the secretary of your local club for information about funding procedures.

Page 1 of 2 -- Being active is great, but is your teen juggling too many activities at once? Find out how to avoid activity overload on page 2

Is your teen taking on too much?
Some teens have so many activities on the go that parents fear they will burn out. If they appear to be happy and keep up their grades, should you allow them to continue at full speed? Yes, but pay close attention and try to determine whether or not they're truly happy.

Some kids, like some adults, are high-energy types who are happiest when they're constantly in motion. Others might have a jam-packed schedule only because that's what they've been accustomed to since early childhood.

Be cautious of activity overload
Obviously, a teen who's often tired, frazzled, forgetful, and failing to keep commitments needs to put on the brakes. Sometimes they feel they need your permission to do a little less. If they resist, insist: "Hey, you're just too busy these days. I want you to drop one activity, and you can let me know at the end of the week which one you've chosen. If you can't decide, I'll be happy to decide for you." Your teen might feel relieved.

A teen struggling with a serious problem -- anorexia, for instance -- sometimes tries masking the trouble with a schedule that is crammed with structured activities. She may use constant busyness to control her weight or help disguise weight loss from her family. A problem such as this needs expert care and guidance, and if you suspect serious underlying trouble, you should consult your family doctor immediately.

Quiet leisure and time for reflection are also important for teens
An adolescent who makes no time for introspection during these years may not develop the capacity to do so as an adult. But if your teen appears to be thriving at home and school, maintains a sense of humour, and fits some quiet time into his hectic schedule, then he's very likely to be in control of his active agenda.

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Parenting teenagers: How to help them find balance outside of school

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