By: Danielle Thillet
If you have a teen at home, you’re probably used to yelling at them for staying up too late, and struggling to get up in the morning. Then there’s the fight about skipping breakfast in order to catch the bus, incomplete homework, and inconsistent school performance. Sound familiar? Not to take the heat off of them completely, but this may not be entirely your kid’s fault. According to pediatricians, early school start times could be to blame.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 43 percent of high school classes start before 8 AM, causing some kids to wake up between 5 and 6 AM in order to get to school before the bell rings. Many students arrive at school already exhausted, bleary-eyed, and unfocused. Not exactly a good start for a day of learning. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study in their journal, Pediatrics, citing puberty sleep-cycle shifts as a main cause. Your kid isn’t lazy — it’s just that around this age, it’s actually difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 PM. (Well, they could still also be lazy. We don’t know your kid.)
Lack of sleep doesn’t only cause poor academic performance. It’s also linked to general poor health, depression, obesity, and higher rates of car accidents. Remember, many high school students are also new drivers. Imagine how terrible you feel when you’ve only had five hours of sleep. Now imagine how much worse it would affect someone in a still developing body.
So what time should teens be arriving at school? Experts recommend the first class period begins at 8:30, at the earliest, with some wanting to push it as far back as 9:15. Unfortunately, changing start times is easier said than done. Transportation costs are a major issue. In fact, staggering bus schedules were a major reason why classes have started earlier and earlier since the 1960’s. Then there’s extracurricular activities. For every hour later that regular school times start, adds an hour until sports and other after-school programs can begin, and of course, end. That means students getting home later, and having less time for homework, jobs, or a socializing and relaxing (which is also incredibly vital at their age).
Unless your local PTA is up to taking on the task of pressuring the school board for changes, this situation may just continue. In the meantime, you can do what you can to ensure your children get the rest they need. First, don’t let them be overscheduled. It can be tempting to fill up free time with clubs, sports, volunteering, internships, and a plethora of other enriching activities that look great on a college application — but ease up. Don’t let your kids (or pressure them to) take on too much at once, especially if their health and schooling will suffer. You should also work on getting them to ditch the late-night text-athons with their friends. We all know that looking at screens right before bed upsets the sleep cycle. And your instinct to kick them out of bed on the weekends? Go with that. Getting up at a reasonable time everyday will make the school week that much easier.
[Pic via Flickr - Pink Sherbet Photography]