We often talk about a healthy work/life balance in the professional world, but what about a healthy school/life balance? What are the challenges that kids and teens face with respect to balancing school with extracurriculars and even jobs?
Eddie Lopez, lead counselor at Lamar Academy, dedicates his time to ensuring that his students work to create a balance with their academics, extracurriculars, and social life and to see the rewards of their efforts. As an International Baccalaureate school, his students have a rigorous course load with demanding classes that require many study hours outside of the classroom. His students “know by default that they will have a lot on their plate, and that in order to maintain enthusiasm and vigor for extracurriculars, that you have to know when to say ‘no’ to yourself,” he said. This means that sometimes they have to put clubs aside until they are prepared to participate in the club without feeling the pressure of their studies.
Lopez likes to equip his students with time management tools, utilizing what he refers to as an “old school” method: a simple daily planner. Using a planner is something tangible that his students can use to write down weekly assignments, upcoming projects, and extracurricular participation. “We want them to get balanced and organized through the tangible planner,” he said.
What happens when time management becomes difficult balancing studies with extracurriculars? “It’s okay to let something go and maybe pick it up later, or put a pause because they need to work on homework and tutoring skills,” Lopez said. “They can then re-engage in the activity.”
In addition to their studies, and participation in extracurriculars, some students also have jobs at fast food restaurants, bowling alleys, and places likes Barnes & Noble. For these students, Lopez reminds them they are a student first. It is important that their academics are not negatively affected by taking on too much and losing focus. He references the planner and how he encourages students to treat everything on their planner as a doctor’s appointment. “In adulthood, we might get charged a fee for canceling or missing an appointment,” he said. “Once [students] start doing that, they have a better idea of being committed to those appointments and time obligations.”
When it came to pursuing employment, Eric Gonzalez, a senior at Robert Villa High School, decided to not take a job at Chick-Fil-A. “The reason why I decided not to take the job is because it was before school started, and they offered me the job, but I declined because I thought about how I might not be able to balance my school and work,” he said. “I signed-up for more AP classes, wanted a social life and downtime, and a job would only make things harder.” In retrospect, he’s happy about his decision, even if it means he doesn’t have the extra funds for going to the beach or other activities.
Even if students do their best in working to balance their schedules, there is still the chance of stress. So how do you handle it?
The University of Texas at Austin’s Counseling and Mental Health Center identifies the following stress signals:
Their tips for dealing with these stressors include:
- Take a deep breath: Try taking a minute to slow down and breathe deeply.
- Manage your time: Plan ahead. Make a reasonable schedule for yourself and include time for stress reduction as a regular part of your schedule.
- Connect with others: A good way to combat sadness, boredom, and loneliness is to seek out activities involving others.
- Take it out: Share your feelings.
- Take a “one-minute” vacation: When you have the opportunity, take a moment to close your eyes and imagine a place where you feel relaxed and comfortable.
Lopez says that parents are the first line of defense when they see their kids struggling. He makes himself accessible to both parents and students to help combat the academic pressures, because his goal is to see every student successfully graduate and pursue a professional path.
“I also encourage students to develop the skill of ‘self-advocacy.’ For example, students might come from a middle school in which they are in the top percentile of the class and then enter a high school environment and feel ‘dumb’ if they ask for help,” he said. “One of the ways our IB kids academically succeed is by developing the skill of self-advocacy — learning how to ask for help. Developing this skill enhances the maturity of the student and also helps develop the skill as they enter the college setting.”
Useful tips on setting yourself up for success at the high school level, including at each grade level, can be found here: https://lamarcounseling.com/
For dealing with stress management: https://cmhc.utexas.edu/stress.html