With back-to-school in full swing, many New Jersey kids are weighing what sports and after-school activities to get involved in this school year. But for some, the pressure to participate could be a source of stress as they struggle to juggle school, extracurricular activities and family responsibilities.

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While extracurricular activities give students the opportunity to try different things and explore where their interests lie, parents do need to make sure their kids are able to manage the demands.

Kathy Coulibaly, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), said there is no state-initiated limitation on school-related activities, so parents really need to pay attention.

"As a general rule, I really firmly believe you (need to) pay close attention to how your children are doing. Some kids thrive on being really busy and having something after school every day, and other kids really need a lot more down time," Coulibaly said. "They might be in a place where they can go outside and have structured play and do things like that, but not every kid has that, so you really definitely encourage parents to make those decisions based on what they see is best for their kids."

According to KidsHealth.orgsome signs that kids exhibit when over-scheduled include:

  • Feeling tired, depressed or anxious;
  • Lack of sleep, difficulty waking up for school;
  • Missed meals;
  • Complaining of headaches and stomachaches;
  • Failure to complete homework assignments, drop in grades;
  • Not enough time spent with family or social circles;
  • Dreading involvement in extracurricular activities.

Coulibaly noted that while individual districts may institute policies requiring students to maintain acceptable grade averages to participate in district-sponsored activities, that is not always the case with non-school sanctioned activities and sports.

"A lot of districts, unfortunately, as a result of budget cuts and spending cuts, have either reduced school-sponsored or district-sponsored sporting activities, so you see more parents that are going outside, participating in travel teams and things like that," Coulibaly said.

For parents of students involved in activities separate from school or on traveling sports teams, Coulibaly suggests grade and homework monitoring to determine whether their child is over-scheduled and not focusing on the most important thing. "And that is, doing the best they can at school," she added.

Parents should also take a close look at the activities and cut back if necessary to find a good balance between family time, academics and the opportunities to try new things, she said.