The Balancing Act

Successfully juggling schoolwork, activities, and jobs.

The Balancing Act

Photo: Gerri Photography


Many teens, and their parents, struggle with the question of how to juggle their school workload with extra-curricular activities and part-time jobs. Should teens only focus on school and homework? Should there be time for joining school teams and clubs and local sports teams, or hanging out with friends? Should teens work 15 hours a week or more at a part-time job? And how can a parent tell if their teen has taken on too much?

To answer these questions, parents need to consider their teen’s stage of development, unique personality and abilities, and future goals. In addition, they should watch for the telltale signs of over-commitment.

A time for social development

School is not just about academic achievement. It’s also about social development. For teens, high school is a time of personal growth and discovery and learning to be part of the world.

Through school teams, clubs, and extra-curricular activities, teens have the opportunity to develop their interests and discover new talents and capabilities. During these years, they may be willing to take safe risks and try new things because of the support and encouragement from teachers and their peer group.

Teens are also preoccupied with creating their social life – friendships are a high priority. While some parents may worry that their teens spend too much time with friends, appropriate time needs to be given to teens’ social development needs.

Being unique

Recognizing their teen’s individuality is one of the best things parents can do to help their teen manage his time. The right balance of school, work and play must be measured by the teens’ personality type, strengths and limitations. It should not be based on the workload his siblings or peer group carry, or on what his parents choose.

Some teens may have the ability to handle a heavy workload and multiple commitments both at school and outside of it without any negative consequences. Some may need to spend more time studying to achieve their desired grades; additional pressures of part-time work or heavy involvement in extra-curricular programs may be too detrimental to their success. Others still may express a greater need for unstructured, free time to spend pursuing their own interests or just meeting important social needs, such as spending time with friends.

Goals for the future

The pressure for good grades heightens in high school as students set their sights on post-secondary programs. However, gaining skills, experience, and qualities needed for success in their career of choice is as valuable as grade requirements. Important context experience and transferable skills can be gained from involvement in extra-curricular activities, volunteer work, or from a part-time job.
For example, programs such as veterinary medicine want applicants to have experience with ani-

mals and child-focused programs want applicants to have experience teaching, leading, or interacting with children. Time spent gathering experience for a future career may give teens more of an edge than grades alone.

Signs of over-commitment

Although many of these skills can come from part time jobs or volunteer commitments, teens’ working hours need to be reasonable. A Statistics Canada study released in 2008 showed the potential for a negative link between part time work and the ability to focus on schoolwork: “Teens with jobs that required 20 hours of work per week or more spent significantly less time on homework than those who didn’t have jobs … which could lead to unhealthy levels of stress and reduced well-being, negatively affecting education outcomes.”

Often, teens commit to part-time work shifts early in the school year or semester when their school workload isn’t heavy. Gradually, schoolwork starts piling up and they may end up with too much on their plate. Although they intend to do the homework, the immediacy of the other commitments takes precedence, leaving them without enough time to do a good job on schoolwork or even complete it on time.

How can you tell if your teen is over-committed? Incomplete homework, missed project deadlines, having to pull “all-nighters”, and slipping grades are all telltale signs.

Talking with your teen throughout the school year, recognizing their unique needs, and observing what is working for them will help you guide them in achieving the right balance of school, activities, and work.

Author: Tracey Starrett, M.Ed., CHRP

Tracey Starrett consults in the areas of human resources, education, and communications. She can be reached at

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