New research finds that teens whose school days begin later than the national norm of approximately 8:00 A.M. achieve more than teens who start school earlier. The researchers in question recommend that school start times be extended to begin no earlier than 8:30 A.M.
Am I missing something here? The problem, it seems to me, is not when the school day begins. The problem is teens whose parents let them stay up until all hours of the night playing video games, texting, talking on their cell phones, and surfing the Internet. These teens aren’t getting enough sleep. Bedtime is the problem, not schooltime.
Furthermore, it’s well known that electronics of the above sort interfere with circadian rhythms. A teen using any of these devices well into the evening is going to have difficulty falling asleep.
This is yet another example of how our culture absolves parents of responsibility for their children (because that would constitute what’s come to be known as “blaming”) and assigns it instead to some faceless institutional policy.
This is also an example of how institutions and bureaucracies tend to completely ignore the law of unintended consequences when it comes to setting policy. Let me assure you that if a school should decide to push its start time from 8:00 to 9:00, the teens who attend said school would simply use that as an excuse to stay up playing, texting, talking, and surfing for another hour. They’ll get exactly the same amount of sleep and come to school equally tired, and their achievement will suffer equally.
The solution to the problem of teens who don’t get enough sleep on school nights is for parents to step up to the plate and make it impossible for their kids to play, text, talk, surf, and listen after 8:00 P.M. With nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs or read, these teens would fall asleep. And because their brains haven’t been bombarded with electronic stimulation prior to falling asleep, they’ll sleep more soundly. And because they’ll sleep more soundly, they’ll wake up refreshed and go to school prepared mentally to do their best.
But that’s the rub, of course. I refer to parents who won’t set any meaningful limits on their children’s use of electronics because this would upset them. And we must not, in America, have upset children!
As one parent put it to me recently, “I mean, but John, that’s what they’re all doing at night!” Meaning that if he shut down his teenage child’s electronic access after 8:00 P.M., the child would be placed at a significant social disadvantage, grow up feeling deprived, and never reach his full potential or some other such baloney.
My parents hardly ever let me do what “all” the other kids were doing. In retaliation, I left home and got married at the age of 20 and managed, somehow, to overcome the debilitating social limitations my parents had imposed on me and create a reasonably decent life for myself, my wife, and our kids. And my parents made me turn out my lights at no later than 10:00 on school nights until I went to college.
But that was back in those benighted days when parents didn’t care what their children thought about any decision they made. Some people actually call them the “good old days.”
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.