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 this 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 cellphones, watching television, surfing the Internet 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 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 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. If a school decides to push its start time from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., the teens who attend it will simply use that as an excuse to stay up for another hour.
The solution to the problem of teens who don’t get enough sleep on school nights is for parents to 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, they will sleep more soundly.
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.
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.
My parents hardly ever let me do what “all” the other kids were doing. 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 decisions they made. Some people actually call them the “good old days.” How ridiculous.