Giving kids the stress test

It's no secret that kids are swamped these days, but to find out what's at the root of the time-crunch, as well as what free-time activities are being affected the most, we went straight to the source. Check out what kids had to say...
November 22, 2002

It’s no secret that kids are swamped these days, but to find out what’s at the root of the time-crunch, as well as what free-time activities are being affected the most, we went straight to the source. Check out what kids had to say…

What we found:

WE started off by asking Reactorz members what they do when they aren’t in school. The traditional pastimes of hanging out with friends and watching TV are still popular, but there are so many other choices available to most kids these days: team sports and sports classes, playing or working on the computer, reading, music lessons, dance classes and organized clubs such as Girl/Boy Scouts. Still sounds pretty normal, right?

But then add in homework and family obligations, and kids start to feel over-booked and stressed. Overwhelmingly, our panelists said they don’t have enough time to do all the things they want to do – and the activities that get dropped off the priority list can be as basic as spending time with family and friends.

Free-time mainstays like computer time and watching TV have also taken a bit of a hit. A full 59% of kids said they don’t spend as much time on the computer (surfing, PC games, on-line research and e-mailing/instant-messaging) as they used to. TV is seeing a slightly lower level of erosion, with 50% of kids saying they spend less time with the tube now. How much less time? There’s no clear answer since screen time varies substantially among kids. Some say they spend four or five hours less a night in front of the computer or TV, while others report a one-hour decrease.

So what’s the major culprit behind this free-time fall-off? Homework, according to kids, who say that by the time they are done their school assignments and have participated in all of their scheduled activities, there is very little unstructured time left over. Kids as young as 10 told us they no longer remember what ‘free time’ means. But most are doing less than an hour of homework a night, unless there’s a major project or test, and many of them try to do their homework assignments in class to free up their after-school hours. So what else could be causing this feeling of stress? Other factors cited were tests, grades, what to wear and friend and family conflicts. As kids get older, they grapple with world politics and worrying about the future as well.

In terms of dealing with the time-crunch and pressure, younger kids seem to be struggling to find effective outlets for stress release. They try to organize themselves with agendas and daytimers, study more and think positively. Interestingly, one of the reasons TV isn’t seeing as big a drop-off as computer time in kids’ busy schedules is that vegging out in front of the tube is their favorite way to handle stress, followed closely by reading, sleeping, computer time and video games.

Kid Insight!

Increasing demands on kids’ time means they’re spending fewer hours on the computer and in front of the tube. TV broadcasters and producers shouldn’t despair, though, since kids say watching TV is their favorite way to reduce stress.

What kids said about stress:

‘Of course there is stress in my life – homework, tests, grades, friends, even what to wear! To help me deal with all the stress, I try to keep organized, write out my assignments in an agenda, and stuff like that.’ (girl, 12)

‘In my free time (although I hardly have any!), I like to read, instant-message, go for a walk or bike ride, hang out with friends and shop.’ (girl, 12)

‘Free time? What does that mean again?’ (girl, 10)

‘I would like to have more free time to spend with my friends, but I can’t right now because of all my homework and the programs I have to take after school and stuff.’ (boy, 11)

‘I just want more time to relax. I usually don’t even do that over the weekends.’ (boy, 15)

‘I’ve just realized that I have not been watching nearly as much TV since I’ve started junior high. Too much homework.’ (girl, 12)

The topics explored in this monthly column are generated by the members of Reactorz, the youth-powered research engine of Big Orbit Inc. that helps companies find out what kids and young people ages seven to 22 are thinking, feeling and talking about. For more information about how Reactorz Research can help your business, please visit or contact Sean Bittle or Kelly Lynne Ashton at 416-516-0705 (by e-mail at

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