The Great Teen Balancing Act: Sleep, Sport, Social Life, Study and Part Time Jobs

Sport, Social Life, Study and Part Time Jobs

In Year 11 and 12, students often have to make hard decisions about balancing their time.  There is increasing need to spend larger amounts of time doing homework and study.  At the same time, students are often involved in part time jobs – and employers sometimes are asking teenagers to work a lot of hours.  Also around this time of life, socialising is very important – teenagers get a lot of satisfaction from spending time with friends, and often want to do a lot of it.  Finally, sport can take up some time – and sometimes students and parents wonder whether that should be sacrificed.

I think there are several important – but different – points to be made about this topic:

Sport and physical exercise is crucial for students in Year 11 and 12

There is increasing evidence that children and teenagers who are physically fit, perform better at school.  One recent study had children jogging daily for several weeks and showed significant improvement in their test results during this time – results which disappeared once the jogging program stopped.  Other studies have shown that immediately after exercise, students perform better in tests, are better able to screen out distractions and have better memories.  Other research shows that people who are physically fit are better able to handle stress, are less likely to get sick and sleep better.  For all of these reasons, I encourage students and their families to prioritise sport.

Part time jobs have benefits and drawbacks for students

In general, I am in favour of part time jobs for teenagers.  They teach responsibility, provide students with a sense of self worth and financial responsibility.  However, there are some drawbacks, the primary one being less time for other activities – including school work, sleep and social time (both family and friends).  There is substantial evidence from the US that students in part time work, especially those that work more than 10 hours a week, achieve lower grades.  This has been replicated in Australia.  The general rule of thumb which I endorse, is that students in Year 12 who are aiming for high ATAR scores, should work less than 10 hours a week.  It is important to acknowledge that this is not an easy situation to manage:  employers often “push” for students to work more shifts.  Sometimes teens need help in knowing how to manage this situation, how to negotiate this with an employer, what to say and how to respond.

Social Life for Students

It is important for teens to socialise throughout senior school.  Social activity, conversation and time with peers is more important for teenagers than it is for adults.  Time with friends helps teenagers enjoy life and feel good about themselves – and positive feelings such as these facilitate healthy brain activity and learning generally.  Of course, there is a balance.  Students who go out each night with friends do not have enough time for study – but it is not the simply the case that “the less time socialising = better grades at school”.

There are no hard and fast rules about this topic, and teenagers and their families do need to make their own decisions about what works best for them.  If parents are wanting students to make changes, I suggest asking the teenager lots of questions about what they think, how it works for them, the disadvantages and advantages that the teenager can see, what they would like to happen, if they have any concerns – etc – before the parent says what they think.  Once the parent has a clear idea about what the teenager thinks, they can then express their own concerns.  Then it is time to brainstorm possible changes or solutions.  Any changes should be suggested as a short term option (i.e let’s try this for the next month) rather than long term – being short term this can help the teenager feel more in control and help the parent have the energy to monitor the situation.

It’s a difficult area, but one worth thinking about as it does have an impact on the teenagers’ life, both in the short and long term.