Are We Creating Joyless Young Adults?

Last week we met with a student who is applying to middle school. We wanted to get to know this sincere and funny 12-year-old boy. We asked him, "What do you like to do in your free time?" He looked to the ceiling and seemed at a loss on how to respond...

Finally, he said, "I don't really have free time."

Once in a while, he said, his parents let him watch TV while eating
his dinner. This might occur after his math tutoring, completion of homework, Mandarin tutoring and/or practice of two musical instruments.

When we asked him how he might spend a free Saturday afternoon, he asked, "you mean after my homework and violin practice?" Think of it! A 12 year old has to think about the concept of free time.

We have all read many articles on the over-scheduling of our children whether from schoolwork or extra curricular activities. Are our children able to identify and pursue a particular passion? Do we even know if they have a special interest? What about time for reading, playing board games or even staring at the window?

There is legitimate concern that our generation of parents has created an environment so demanding and stressful that our children find themselves burnt out by their teenage years. What message are we communicating?

Do some students follow safe predictable paths because they are scared to take risks that may affect future college choices?

Our children are pushed to achieve in school, in sports, in highly orchestrated extra-curricular activities often without regard to their unique interests or talents. We push activities that may reflect well on a college application and then we push SAT/ACT prep to obtain the highest scores possible.

In our attempts to keep our children competitive for all possibilities, consider that we might be fostering unhappy young adults who haven't been given the gift of time -- time to know themselves, time to fail, time to learn from mistakes and recover, and the critical time for self-reflection on what brings them joy.