School Time Blues

News reports the last couple days are buzzing about the American Academy of Pediatrics report advocating later start times for the school day. This idea, they say, would prove advantageous for children, promoting better mental alertness and general health for kids (especially teens). As a professional association of more than 60,000 pediatricians, AAP is advocating that the school-day start about 8:30 a.m. or later, particularly for middle school and high school students.Tired-Girl

AAP’s report has generated plenty of discussion with articles here, here, here, and here … among a host of others. News anchors on radio and television have highlighted the discussion as well.

Thirty years ago when I decided to educate my four children at home, one of the compelling reasons I identified for doing so was our preference to start the day on our terms, rather than be dictated by the starting time for a public or private school. I remember how much I enjoyed putting away the alarm clocks. (I referenced this in a post earlier this year.)

As a mom, I found our house was so much more peaceful when the children were able to awaken (based on their individual body clocks), come out and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and most pleasing of all for me, I didn’t have to hustle them out the door because the clock on the wall was nearing eight o’clock.

Over the years, how I’ve enjoyed this freedom! Furthermore, I think my children enjoyed the change as well. When children sleep soundly (as mine did), the screech of an alarm loud enough to wake them up is also screechy enough to bring out the bears in otherwise sweet children. Why would you purposely seek to have your children start their day by robbing them of their tranquility?sleepiness

The parts of the AAP report I’ve read acknowledge that the sleep patterns children have developed aren’t always conducive to healthy sleep. Imagine that! We currently have a living example here in our home — our 4 year old grandson, H. His mama tends to get some of her best creative work done at night, so H. often keeps her hours. Since my DIL’s boutique doesn’t open until 11 a.m., she can sleep later and still arrive at her shop before customers arrive. While their schedule is doable now, we’re hoping it hasn’t set a sleep pattern where little H. will be perpetually sleep-deprived when he starts school.

With my children, they generally went to bed around 10 p.m. (earlier when they were younger), even as teens. There were no cell phones and no computers and no televisions in their bedrooms. They were permitted to read, listen to stories on tape and lights were almost always out by 10:30 p.m. When they grew into teenagers and there were activities on weekday evenings, we still kept a tighter control to ensure activities were over in a timely fashion … or they were simply escorted home at a reasonable hour.

As for part time jobs, our younger daughter eventually quit a restaurant job that repeatedly required her to stay past 10:30. In my view, her health and welfare were more important than the job, and this particular restaurant had promised she’d get off early (9 p.m.) so they weren’t treating her properly either.

If I had teenagers today, the cell phones would be confiscated every night. Computers would be powered down (and monitored) and televisions in bedrooms would still be tabu. I think the pediatricians have identified an important problem … children going through childhood sleep-deprived. But a huge part of the solution is to pave the way for establishing good sleep patterns. A teenager whose best friends insist on carrying the conversations (whether text, emails, or phone calls) through and past the bewitching hour will never get a good night’s sleep. Parents need to assist them in establishing those good sleep patterns and it begins with removing the distractions to sleep!

Before schools take the AAP recommendations to heart, I hope they’ll make the case for addressing nighttime going-to-bed routines. If teens can work on better habits when day is done, they might be better prepared for greeting a new day at the conventionally appointed hour for school classes to begin.

Or, perhaps they should investigate the advantages of home education?

Renée