HARD-WORKING TEENS On the fast track
Kids say they like to have a full schedule, but it can be overwhelming.
By TRACEY D'ASTOLFO
Twice a week, Candy and Mandy Davis are up before the sun.
An hourlong track practice starts at 5:30 a.m. on those days. Then the girls, seniors at Girard High School, head home to get ready for school.
The 17-year-old twins also have evening track practice five days a week. They're home after 6 p.m. on school days and spend a couple of hours doing homework.
On Saturday mornings they have track from 9 until 11.
Sundays they're up early for church, and usually run four miles later.
The girls are both in advanced placement classes in school and have been writing essays for college scholarships.
They're also involved in science olympiad and Spanish club.
It adds up
Sports, work, school, church, household chores -- it all adds up to a busy life for many teens.
And while a heavily booked schedule can give teens a head start in achieving their goals, it can also take a toll.
"Teens need to go through an emotional sorting process. It's hard to do this when they're overbusy," said Sharon Stringer, adolescent psychology professor at YSU.
If teens miss out on this process, they may have trouble finding an internal sense of freedom, health and high self-esteem in the future, Stringer said.
For Brian Walton, a junior at Struthers High School, the day starts at 7:15 a.m. After school there's baseball or football practice until 5 or 5:30, and then weightlifting. He heads home, eats and showers, and then has homework. He also works several nights per week. He usually doesn't manage to close his eyes until after midnight.
With an average of 6 1/2 hours of sleep a night, he often feels worn out.
"Being tired and having to sit through school is hard enough, then having practice after school wears you down. By the end of the week, I'm dead," said Walton.
Pressure to achieve
Stringer says this overscheduling may come from societal pressure to achieve a lot. Also, some teens feel the need to be active to meet college entrance requirements.
"Being overbusy is a trend, and it's not the teen's fault. Society feels that idle hands are a bad thing," Stringer said.
Ron Hallock, guidance counselor at Fitch High School, believes that keeping active is good for teens, to a point.
"As a parent, I always felt the busier they were, the less chance they had to get in trouble, but it's got to be done in a balance," he said.
Stringer agrees, saying teens need to have a balance that includes time to reflect, but also enough activity and vibrancy.
Although it wears him out, Walton has his reasons for keeping active. "I keep a full schedule so that I have something to do, people to talk to, time away from home, to stay in shape, for the recognition and for fun."
The Davis sisters like their lives busy, and feel that it's helpful.
"I find that when I have more things to do I get more done. I set goals for what I have to do and I do it. I'm more motivated to do things," said Mandy.
YSU's Stringer said that some teens can handle full schedules better than others.
"Activities that require discipline can affect other areas of life ... there are many honors students engaged in activities that require a great deal of discipline," she said.
She adds that this usually depends on individual chemistry, temperament and emotional support from parents.
Candy and Mandy said they wouldn't change a thing, adding that they were busier in the past.
"We were cheerleaders in our freshman year, but we didn't try out after that. I like it a little better this way because I have more time to focus on things," said Candy.
Many experts say work is the real problem for teens, not sports or other activities.
Study on work
A study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that working 15 to 20 hours a week improved a student's self-esteem and grade-point average, whereas working over 20 hours often resulted in high levels of psychological distress.
Stringer agrees that teens "overworking" is a problem and something that depends on culture.
"There is a very strong work ethic in the Youngstown area, and a lot of kids work while attending school here," she said.
Gina Sciortino, a junior at Fitch High School, works 25 hours a week during the school year. She is also a cheerleader and a National Honor Society member, and is involved in peer mediation, Latin club, spirit club and church-related activities.
Sciortino said if she could cut one thing out of her schedule, it would be her job, but she needs to work to make her car payment. She said she finds herself getting up early, getting to bed late, and feeling stressed.
Hallock said the majority of Fitch students work. He said employers tend to abuse the students, scheduling them to work late hours.
"Kids come in complaining that they couldn't get their work done because they had to work until 11. The biggest problem I see with it is school attendance," he said.
Stefanie Sobinovsky, a senior at Struthers High School, works 20 to 30 hours a week during the school year, and 40 to 45 during the summer.
"I first started working just to get out of the house, but now I'm used to the money and don't think I could do without it," she said.