Change the Game: Raising Great Kids in a Changing World

A series of articles by PCD experts to help navigate this sometimes messy process.

Balancing Act

Walking the fine line between work and play to ensure your child’s healthy development

 


Everybody needs a break.  Whether it’s a cup of coffee at work, a morning trip to the gym, or a weekend round of golf, finding balance in our daily lives is essential for peak performance in both work and play.  As adults, we get a lot of practice juggling all the things we need to do and we know that we have to work hard to find time to play.  Our children are less experienced at finding that balance and often need a little help.

Kids today are dealing with a lot of stress that their predecessors didn’t face.  They need to be top scholars, athletes, artists, good friends, and helpful community members.  They need to get into college and get jobs.  They are growing up in a complicated world and often feel the weight of it on their shoulders.  Kids respond to stress by seeking releases—from hanging out with friends, to screen time and video games, to drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately, some of their favorite diversions are tough to regulate and ultimately increase, rather than decrease stress.

Often, when parents see their children suffering academically, they think limiting after-school sports will provide more study time.  But the benefits of physical activity are well worth the time it takes.  When children engage in after school sports they increase the release of dopamine and endorphins in their brains, they engage in more live socialization, and they experience less stress once they catch up on their work. Behavioral Scientist, Kenneth R. Ginsburgh, MD, MSEd, of the University of Pennsylvania, has studied the essential role of active play in the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development of children.  With more pressure than ever for students to excel, parents are inclined to forsake “play-time” for “enhancement activities” that they perceive as necessary for future success.  Ginsburgh urges parents to resist the inclination to over schedule their child at the peril of developmental and emotional health.  He also suggests that the increase in passive entertainment like TV and video games (many kids’ go-to “stress reducers”) can actually undermine age appropriate development and increase stress.

Ginsburgh’s research tells us that student anxiety or a drop in academic success is not the result of a full plate so much as the equity of the portions on the plate. Additionally, the activity chosen to reduce stress is often the accelerant that contributes to imbalance and increased stress. Outdoor activities are key components of a balanced schedule and study-break activities must be easy to manage (can be started and stopped in a timely manner), to allow students to return to their studies with focus and energy.

Want to find balance in your child’s busy life?

  • Get outside. Fresh air, the change in scenery, the physical activity…all contribute to essential emotional and physical balance while recharging the batteries for indoor pursuits.
  • Play a sport. You can’t beat the physical and social benefits of being on a team.
  • Hit the gym. A regular workout will address all manners of stress and anxiety, benefiting both mind and body.
  • Watch the carbs. A balanced diet is as important as a balanced schedule.
  • Get some social time. Everyone benefits from a healthy dose of oxytocin and serotonin—both released in our brains during positive social interaction. Hang out with friends in person.

We all need balance, but as parents we need to be the gatekeepers of our children’s to do lists—helping them walk the fine line that best addresses their developmental needs.

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