Teenage Wasteland

29 Dec

Letterbalm Overworked High School KidDear LetterBalm: My 16-year-old son is a great kid, but he’s overburdened – too many activities outside of school. He’s on two sports teams, karate, astronomy and chess clubs and jazz piano, plus tutoring kids, with all the practices, games, competitions and meets involved. He’s a good student with a real aptitude for piano and basketball and an abiding interest in science. But he’s exhausted and beginning to push back from all the scheduling. He wants some downtime to hang with his friends, and I agree with him. It’s my wife who wants him to participate in all these things. She’s concerned that he won’t be well-rounded enough or get into a good college. She comes from a high-achieving family, so I can see where this comes from. What can I say to get her to listen to me and dial it back?

–Laid-back Dad

This is serious business, and you have to intervene, knowing your wife may resent your efforts. Your son needs sleep, rest and unstructured time. He’s heading for burnout, deliberate failure or lifelong antipathy toward his parents. You may be able to reach your wife by drawing on her own memories. Did she have a bad experience from her over-achieving parents and siblings? How was high school and college for her? Is there a competitive relative who makes life miserable for everybody? Ms. L.B. recommends that you research health requirements for growing teenagers, take your wife out for a lovely dinner and, when she’s relaxed and receptive, reach across the table, take her hands in yours and say something like this:

Adrienne, you are so special to me and I love you as I’ve loved no one else. Which is why I have to talk with you about something really important. You’re a great mom, but you’re not focusing clearly. Honey, Will is in trouble. He’s so overscheduled with activities that he’s exhausted. He’s burning out. He’s come to me and told me he wants to cut back on a couple of things but you don’t want him to. I know he’s a great kid and a good student, and we both want him to get into a good school. But all these activities are working against him. Don’t you remember how resentful you were about your parents insisting you take extra high school classes after school, along with your ballet, and art classes and volunteering at the vet clinic? You told me you were always tired and hated most of your high school experience because of what they forced you to do. Look, I have an idea: Before we go any further, let’s see a couples counselor for a few sessions. He or she may have some ideas of how to handle this in the best way for Will. And, maybe, Will might want to talk to his school counselor, too. How does this sound?


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