They’re at it again, trying to get districts to change high school start times later so teens don’t have to get up so early. “No high school before 8:30, or 9:00 AM,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). To hear them, one would think that starting school later results in smarter kids who will save the world.

Sure, studies show that teens have a longer circadian cycle than adults. What that means is teens like to sleep-in. Show me a person who needed a study to learn that, and I’ll show you someone who was born 30 years old and never knew a teenager.

These studies also show that teens who are tired don’t learn as well and they perform poorer on exams and in the work place than their well-rested peers. As the kids would say, “Duh!”

teens sleep high school start timesParents already know that tired kids are more likely to be misdiagnosed with ADD and ADHD. Giving them stimulants thus helps them concentrate. So does avoiding over-stimulating activity before bed-time and getting them to bed early. But, that’s a problem for another day.

I have enough confidence in teenagers to beg to differ on school starting times. Drive by most any high school in America at 5 or 5:30 in the morning and you’ll see kids practicing football and soccer, running track, hitting balls on the tennis court, or working on some other project. Go inside and you’ll find gyms filled with teens shooting buckets, wrestling, or lifting weights, others practicing their strokes in the pool. High school athletes learn to set an alarm and do what’s needed to succeed.

I have had the privilege of talking with hundreds of high school athletes. When I ask them how they are able to get up so early they all tell me the same thing. “I go to bed early, because I’m so tired I can’t stay awake.” Many of them joke they need their beauty rest! All of them know that success comes from hard work over long periods of time.

Truth of the matter is teens, like the rest of us, can do just about anything they make up their minds to do. All they need is the motivation to do it, which must come from within themselves, an alarm clock, and support from parents and coaches.

Now back to that circadian cycle thing. If it is true that teens’ cycle is an hour longer than adults’, won’t we have to start school an hour later every day, or at least change it every week, as kids adjust to staying up later and later because they slept later that morning? The math adds up!

school start times responsible teensOnce again, the cause and effect have been mixed up. Kids sleep later in the morning because they stayed up later the night before. No question many kids today are sleep deprived, so too are most adults. Adults who stay up late to watch TV or read, are tired in the morning; so are their kids!
Teens need to discipline themselves in preparation for the working world. No one will keep a job if they fail to report to work on time.

Parents need to get their kids an alarm clock at an early age, Kindergarten seems about right to me. Then they need to teach the kids how to use it; in the process the young child will learn responsibility and develop self-confidence so important for success.

To make the process easier parents must have rules about phones, computers, and television in bed rooms. That rule must be “none of the above in their sleeping area”.

So, parents, find a place for homework where you can keep an eye on your students and have them work there. The family kitchen seems like the appropriate place. Teacher surveys tell us that more homework is done by parents than students. That has to be a NO-NO. Find yourself a book to read or some other quiet work to do while sitting with them. It doesn’t seem right to me that parents should watch TV while the kids work. I’m sure all kids will agree with me on that subject.

And by all means, have a place, far away from the bedrooms to keep all electronic gadgets after bedtime. Start the habit early and it will be engrained in them and will not become a problem.

Finally, remember the famous words of Ben Franklin, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” The same is true for women, children, and pets.