Q.When my oldest child entered high school in September, we followed the advice of other parents: Make sure your children do more than show up for class! See that they're involved in an activity! Help them identify with a group and make friends!

We let our son choose a "no cut" sport, because the coach never cuts anyone from the team as long as he shows up for practice and tries his best. Our son had second thoughts when he found that he had a three-hour practice after school every day, but we made him stick with it.

He leaves the house before 7 a. m. and doesn't get back until 6 o'clock or later. Or he does his homework in study hall after school, plays a game from 6 to 7:30 and gets home after that. He's even supposed to raise funds for his team!

I think this schedule would be hard on any 14-year-old, but my son is a decided introvert who needs downtime, requires downtime, cherishes downtime.

But how can he get it? The requirements to get into the band or on the swim team are even more rigorous, and some kids are burning out before their senior year.

What can we -- the parents of an introvert -- do to make school more sane for our son?

He is one great kid and I love and respect him, but the system seems to drain all of his energy.

A.Many, many high school students are super-stressed today because their teachers and coaches -- and often their parents -- are expecting them to do way too much. This is bad for introverts and it isn't great for extroverts, either.

Teenagers -- especially freshmen and sophomores -- need downtime to think and reflect every day, and somehow you have to help your son get it.

Tell the coach that the boy, like any introvert, needs some time alone and ask him if your son could take a 10- or 15-minute walk between class and practice and still stay on the team.

If he can't, and if your son can't hang on until the end of the semester, let him quit now. You don't want school to seem like a prison.

You do need to lay down some rules, however.

Tell your son that he must find out how much time and money any activity will require before he signs up for it; that he should join only the ones that suit his temperament and his talents; and that he should take on just one or two small, low-key commitments next semester.

Even then, you should give him the right to quit a boring club or one where the chemistry of the group is all wrong.

If the leader is a sour sort, your son will be unhappy, and if the group is dominated by a clique, he will always feel like an outsider.

There is no point in staying on, in either case.

Fortunately, most high schools offer many extracurricular activities.

An introvert, if he's competitive, may prefer the chess club or the track team. If he's patient, enjoys details and has many collections, he might check out the science or computer clubs.

If he likes to write or take pictures, the school newspaper, yearbook or literary magazine may be the ticket for him, and if he's good in art, look for a drawing or pottery class at the recreation center or a museum. Not every activity has to be school-related.

Good toe-wetting experiences will make your son feel more comfortable in school and may inspire him to try out for another team or for crew or the school newspaper in a year or two.

In fact, if he finds the perfect outlet, he may throw himself into it so freely that he won't even care how many hours he gives or when he gives them.

Whatever activity your son chooses, get to know the other students in the group and have them over for burgers or tacos occasionally.

The right friends will do more to steer your boy in the right direction, and make him happier in school, than almost anything else.

And the next time some hyper-parents tell you what your introverted son should do, listen to your gut instead. You know him better than they do.

You might even give them a copy of "The Over-Scheduled Child," a wise and wonderful book by Alvin Rosenfeld and Nicole Wise (St. Martin's; $13.95).

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.