There are more options for students from kindergarten to college, and that means it’s a tough time to be a student.

There are more options for students from kindergarten to college, and that means it’s a tough time to be a student.
With so many extracurricular activities such as sports, dance, theater, music, etc., students are busier now than ever before. And that could be taking its toll on the students throughout the age spectrum.
“There’s so much to choose from that kids are getting too busy,” said Chuck Killingsworth, PSU professor of health, physical education and recreation. “When I grew up, there weren’t a variety of things to do that kids have today. Kids are less likely to be able to do something on their own. They almost have to be entertained rather than be creative and make their own entertainment. We organized our fun ourselves, rather than have someone else organizing and setting up the fun.”
There are several effects and problems created by the ever-increasing and ever-younger extracurricular activities.

Grade school
Extracurricular activities are not just for high school students anymore. Even first graders and kindergartners are getting into the act.
Caralee Simon, a massage therapist with Ahead of Its Time in Pittsburg, said she is treating more children with massages. She has had several clients under the age of 10.
“I’ve had so many children come in because of sports or sports injuries, from a tennis elbow to a sprain,” Simon said. “I’ve seen so many more contractures, commonly known as knots, even in little children. A lot of children are dealing with sports injuries. There’s a lot of headaches, stress or allergies. I’m having to cure a lot of headaches.”
But Simon is not only on the business end of student stress situation. She’s also dealing with it within her own family. She has a 7-year-old son who is active in sports at school, soccer camp, swimming at the YMCA, summer school classes, Bible studies at church, soccer, baseball, YMCA basketball, and Vacation Bible School. And that son is entering the first grade in August.
“He’s expected to know so much more,” Simon said. “He’s learning Spanish and another language. He juggles so many activities. It’s all by his choice and he loves it, but it’s killing me.”
Simon isn’t the only one. Chris Ratzlaff, J.L. Hutchinson commissioner, also has a 7-year-old. She’s involved in gymnastics, dance and softball, to name a few.
“I think it takes a toll on the kid because of expectations,” Ratzlaff said. “She’s 7 and already accustomed to that. As she ages, she’ll become more accustomed to that. I recommend everyone has some free time in this fast-paced society.”

Finding free time
Ratzlaff said there is a fine line between filling a child’s free time and overloading a child. And that is a fine line to tread.
“It certainly comes down to the personality of the child,” Ratzlaff said. “You run the risk of burning a person out. You need some time to spend just relaxing. Kids these days are willing to make big concessions with their free time. I don’t know if I would have survived in this day and age. I like hanging out with my friends too much.”
In fact, one recent study is showing that as kids get older from age 9 to 15, a  kid’s physical activity is dropping. The results, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed 9-year-olds often spent three hours a day in moderate to vigorous activity. By age 15, that dropped to 49 minutes during the week and 35 minutes on the weekends.
Killingsworth said a lot of that could be because of technological advances that have affected today’s youth.
“A part of that can be attributed to the electronic age,” Killingsworth said. “Children today have a much higher affinity with computers because of Game Boys and other electronics. There’s a tendency to get away from going out and playing.”

High school pressure
School sports, summer camps, first jobs, drama, art, theater and other activities, not to mention tests, college applications, scholarship applications, and standardized national tests, can pile up by the time a student reaches high school.
J.T. Knoll, PSU coordinator of student prevention and wellness, said he sees a lot of students dealing with stress.
“Starting in high school, as students come in here to PSU, kids have gotten pretty scheduled. I think they’re overscheduled in general,” Knoll said. “Everybody’s got a different camp to go to these days.”
Ratzlaff, who is also a psychologist at Fort Scott High School and Winfield Scott Elementary, said he has seen the pressure affect several kids.
“I have had a half dozen kids come to me with the pressure of having to excel at athletics, at academics, at debate, and so on,” Ratzlaff said. “All that stress can lead to problems, like long-term depression and anxiety. That can lead to physical problems like high blood pressure.”

Post-graduation fallout
Since structured activities often reach their peak in high school, the rug can be pulled out from under them when the student graduates from high school. Suddenly, many of those structured sports and activities are no longer an option.
“When you’re out of high school, there is a void to fill,” Ratzlaff said. “I’m sure it’s an adjustment, but they’ve got to fill the void with something time consuming and enjoyable. A lot of time, that’s college. But if you’ve gone 100 mph for all your life, and that comes to an end, there’s certainly a void there.”
But perhaps part of the problem related to the post-graduation period is simply a lack of alternative options to the high school activities.
“Part of the problem here in Pittsburg is that there isn’t a lot for post-high school individuals to do,” Killingsworth said. “One of the neat things at PSU is the opening of the new Student Recreation Center, which will give them choices rather than going out on the weekend and drinking whether they are of age or not.”

College stress
Once in college, the pace often picks up again.
However, Knoll argues that a great deal of pressure has been added because of the recent economic times.
Often, Knoll said, students are forgoing the class they desire because of conflicting work schedules. Those work schedules can bite into extracurricular activities, as well.
“Students are a lot more busy these days,” Knoll said. “They have one or two jobs aside from school. To afford school and get by, their parents are more stretched, and that filters down to them to do more to pick up the slack. College is very expensive and has outpaced inflation in many areas.”

De-stress before distress
Everyone seems to have their own methods for dealing with stress, whether it is massage therapy, more free time, more exercise, more involvement in service groups or any number of other de-stressing techniques.
Knoll said he has believes people need to take deep breaths and find people to talk with to vent their stress to.
“Our whole culture runs around like a cocker spaniel, and we forget to take deep breaths,” Knoll said. “It’s important to have somebody in your life you can talk to like a teacher or an adult or a parent. A lot of students I know have a buddy system they meet up with during the day. They meet up just to sit in front of the TV or play a game on the computers to get away from the structured stuff.”
But even then, it’s not an issue of dealing with the cause of stress, it’s stress management. The issue ultimately comes down to finding a balance between work and leisure; it’s a hard balance to find.
“You look at the newspaper. There are so many different things you can be involved with in the summer,” Killingsworth said. “Even when school is in session, you have sports, music, the expressive arts. It’s hard to find a time when something isn’t available.”

Andrew Nash can be reached at andrew.nash@morningsun.net or by calling 231-2600 ext. 132.