Thursday, September 5, 2013

Kids: Go to Bed!

There’s a growing movement among some parents and kid psychologists, supported by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, pushing for later start times for high school students.

High school students are experiencing absenteeism, they’re tired in school, they’re spending all their lunch money on Starbucks.  Their brains are wired not to be alert until after second period. Their solution: start school later.

How about this one: send the kids to bed earlier.

Medical professionals say kids should sleep 8.5-9.5 hours per night. Simple math says that kids who have to be up at 6 a.m. (like my daughter) need to be in bed by 9 p.m., 10 p.m. at the latest.  Later bell advocates say that doesn’t work because…. well, I’m not sure why. The debate hardly talks about why they can’t get to bed on time.  Yes, there is chatter about their after-school activities and homework and texting the friends they just left and watching the latest funniest videos on YouTube.  But no-one seems to propose the idea to cull some of the stuff and send the kids to bed earlier if getting up is a problem.

Now, I know there are some kids out there who are working because their family financially needs them to. Or they are watching siblings or grandparents because mom and dad are at work. Or there are all kinds of family issues which keep them from getting a good night’s sleep. I’m not including those kids because I think their needs are serious and go beyond a later school bell.

I’m talking about the kids who are not hitting their pillow until 11 p.m. because they are “busy” with teen stuff.  Kids like my daughter who starts school at 7:20 a.m., long before her younger siblings.  She’s done at 3 p.m.  Then she goes to after-school sports practice.  She gets home in time for dinner and does her homework. She could go to bed then, by about 9 p.m. But hey, its football season and she’s got to check her fantasy team.  Or she’s trying to restyle her hair or read the next 100 pages of her newest book.  So she goes to bed later and gets about 7 hours of sleep a night.

If I thought she was not functioning, we’d adjust her bedtime. We wouldn’t let her watch the games until the final kick. If it was really bad, she’d have to quit her school sport.  The point is, parents can adjust their kids’ daytime activity level to get them to bed earlier and be awake for school.

This is another example of “my kid is struggling and it would take too much effort parenting so let’s upend society instead.”  Folks like to do this at school.  Kids are fat – instead of telling my kid they can’t have potato chips and chocolate all day, let’s demand that all the vending machines at school are cut off.  My kid is uncoordinated and unathletic, let’s get rid of try-outs and put everyone on the sports team. My kid doesn’t hold a pencil correctly, let’s not make writing in school a requirement.
At some point, old-fashioned parenting has to kick in.  Your kid’s sleepy in school, failing class, driving tired? How about send them to bed earlier, make them study instead of playing sports, and catch the bus until they are awake enough to drive.

Sure, I love sleeping later, too.  I’d love my alarm not to go off at 5:45 a.m. I’m so tired because I stayed up watching Jimmy Fallon and crocheting my next scarf.  Hmmm…. How could I get more sleep?

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