Before my husband and I married, we often babysat our nieces and nephews. We continued after marriage as we tried for our own children. Babysitting gave us ample opportunities to test out our “parenting skills” before
messing up raising our own kids. It also gave me several chances to see what kind of father my husband might be to our own children. (He was, and still is, like a big kid around children. One of the many things I love about him.)
Of all the memories we have from those days, the one that triggers the most giggles is the day we spent with his 3-year-old niece. After a long morning of play, the little whip decided it was time for her “baby” to take a nap. She laid her doll ever so gently on the bed and whispered “Go to sleep” before tip-toeing out the door. She quietly stepped down the hall before abruptly stopping. Letting out a very audible sigh, she turned around and headed back to the bedroom. She cracked the door and authoritatively scolded, “Go to sleep!” Presumably, the doll fussed because our gentle, smiling niece transformed into a drill Sargent and commanded the doll to “Go To Sleep!” She slammed the door shut before tip-toeing down the hall once again. We watched as she lifted a finger to her lips and told us, “Sshhh, baby is sleeping.” Apparently, our loud snickers awoke the sleeping babe. With a huff and a glare, the little mama marched to the bedroom, all but kicked the door down, and screamed, “GO TO SLEEP!!” That afternoon I laughed so hard my belly hurt.
Despite her abrasive technique, our niece may have demonstrated parental wisdom beyond her years. As any mom or dad will tell you, babies/children need sleep. Even total strangers know this. They’ll ask, “Is she sleeping through the night yet?” Pediatricians inquire about nap schedules. Daycare providers detail napping routines. And, I don’t know about today, but when I was little even my kindergarten schedule included a rest/nap time.
I remember when my girls transitioned from two naps to one and from one nap to a simple “quiet time.” Despite their resistance, I knew they still needed the quiet time. I drug those days out as long as I could. In part, for my own survival. A sleep deprived toddler can easily draw impatient scolds from the most patient of mothers. But, the rants and disrespect of a sleep deprived teen can drive a silenced monk to scream from a mountain top. I’m no monk, but boy have I been there!
As the parent of two teens, nap-times are long behind us, but I know my teens still need their sleep. I was first educated 13 years ago when my husband and I attended a seminar called, “Toddlers to Teens.” The lecturing doctor offered insight into the parallel paths of brain and body development between the toddler and teen years, highlighting the similarities between their physical and emotional needs–including sleep. Ask any parent and they’ll share the dire consequences of a toddler’s missed nap or restless night. It often takes more than a day or two to reset the routine. Given the opportunity, most teens will snore through an entire Saturday to catch up on a week’s worth of lost sleep –until it’s time to see friends, that is. Like toddlers, it often takes a day or two to reset a teen’s body clock. Yep, toddlers and teens are that similar.
I’m often accused of treating my teens like “little kids” and of being overly controlling. Sometimes my teen accusers are right. Though I have learned to choose my parenting battles more wisely, an enforced 10:15 “lights out” time on school nights is one I have yet to surrender. Our school day begins at 7:15, and experience has taught me my kids still need 8+ hours of sleep, despite their protests. Homework comes before any TV, computer, phone/texting or “free reading” time, and is hopefully complete before I tell the girls to head up to bed. I’m often challenged on this rule by my high school senior. Understandably so. But, now I have the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on my side.
According to a recent study of 12,000 high school teens, almost 70 % reported they got less than the recommended 8 hours of sleep on school nights. Some parents will argue that their teens’ homework load leaves them no choice. While often true, the consequences may be greater than the admission to an Ivy League school. As reported in a CDC news release, kids that sleep less than 8 hours per night are more likely to engage in risky behaviors than their peers who sleep 8+ hours per night. Sleep deprived teens are more likely to have sex, smoke, both cigarettes and marijuana, drink alcohol, and contemplate suicide. Additionally, they are more likely to lead sedentary lifestyles and get into fights.
Honestly, I don’t think the study suggests that one late night, or even a week’s worth, would cause teens to smoke a joint or take a drink. High school homework loads often require the burning of midnight oil. My girls have had many late nights finishing a project or studying for exams. They should; there are realities in life, and “Unmet due dates have consequences” is just one of them. However, Facebook, texting, TV, etc. do not warrant late bedtimes on school nights in our house. Teens often think they’re indestructible and sadly neglect their need for sleep. The potential pitfalls of consistent late nights/early mornings appears irrefutable, but I don’t need 12,000 teens to tell me about the consequences. I need only look into the drawn faces of my girls to know the price paid for a late night: their ability to function with reason and good attitudes. Left unchecked, the price could be much higher, one I am unwilling to let my kids pay. So for now, I’ll follow the drill Sargent example set by my niece many years ago and tell my girls to “Go to sleep!” at 10:15.
How do you deal with your teen’s late nights?
To read the CDC news release, click here: Sleepy Teens Prone to Bad Behaviors, Study Finds – healthfinder.gov