Late nights, not school start time, problem for teens

  • By John Rosemond McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • Thursday, September 4, 2014 4:01pm
  • Life

It’s a fact that a good night’s sleep is essential to optimal performance, no matter the task. It is also a fact that America’s teens, generally speaking, don’t get enough sleep. Ergo, American teens, as a group, underperform in school.

In consideration of the above, a movement has arisen to extend school start times to at least 8:30 a.m. I think the well-meaning folks behind said movement are missing the point. 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 cells phones, watching television, surfing the ‘net, and listening to music on headphones. These teens, as has been known for some time now, aren’t getting enough sleep. Bedtime is the problem, not school time.

Furthermore, it is 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 the 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 the reader that if a school decides to push its start time from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., the teens who attend said school will simply use that as an excuse to stay up playing, texting, talking, watching, surfing, and listening for another hour. They will get exactly the same amount of sleep, 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, watch, surf, and listen after 8 at night. With nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs or read, these teens will fall asleep. And because their brains have not been bombarded with electronic stimulation prior to falling asleep, they will sleep more soundly. And because they will sleep more soundly, they will wake up refreshed and go to school prepared mentally to do their best.

Ah, but that’s the rub, of course. I refer to parents who will not set limits of any meaningful sort on their children’s use of electronics because, get this, it will 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 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 age 20 and managed, somehow, to overcome the debilitating social limitations my parents had imposed on me and create a reasonably decent life for myself, wife, and kids. Oh, and my parents made me turn out my lights at no later than 10 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.” How ridiculous.

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