BACKGROUND: The activity patterns of children, especially after-school patterns, are receiving more professional attention. However, evidence regarding the value of various activities in children's lives is contradictory. The purpose of this study was to assess perceptions of discretionary activities, overscheduling, and levels of stress from adolescents' perspective.
METHODS: A sample of 882 children, ages 9 to 13, recruited at 9 health education centers in the United States was selected for this study. Children answered questionnaires using remote, handheld devices. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and multivariate logistic regression. The outcomes of interest were activity-based stress and desire for more free time.
RESULTS: The primary predictor for the desire for more free time was hours of screen time (television, computer, video games): those who reported 3 or more hours were nearly 3 times more likely to desire more free time. Further, children who chose their own activities experienced more activity-related stress than those who shared decisions with parents. The single greatest predictor of activity-related stress was the reported number of hours spent on homework. Students who averaged at least 2 hours on homework per night were nearly twice as likely to report frequent activity-related stress.
CONCLUSION: Parents of school-aged children should assess activity-related stress and the degree to which children perceive they are busy. Teachers, school counselors, and school administrators should be aware of these perceptions as they are making decisions regarding school schedules and should teach personal skills such as time management and stress control.