School Start Times
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the professional organization of Pediatricians, has the reputation of distributing periodic policy statements. These statements are used to clarify the stance that this collection of Pediatricians thinks parents, pediatricians, school officials, and any other person who associates with children need to know. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, a researcher, and a parent, I pay attention to these policy statements, and read through them to understand the justification of why the AAP thinks that a particular topic would require a policy statement. At the beginning of this month, the AAP distributed yet another important policy statement. Building on the already solid foundation of how teenage bodies develop and the amount of sleep teenagers need, the AAP advocates and recommends middle and high schools delay their start times to no earlier than 8:30 am, and sometimes later due to local circumstances. In addition to advocating schools change their schedules, the AAP policy statement recommends parents take more responsibility and accountability in, "setting bedtimes and in supervising sleep practices, such as social networking and electronic media use in the bedroom (CITE)." This is an important first step toward greater physical and mental health for adolescents.
Zero Tolerance Policies
Just over a year ago, the AAP distributed a policy statement that could have just as much impact on adolescent physical and mental health as the school start times policy. Compiling and sifting through the research on the effectiveness of "Zero Tolerance" policies, the AAP recommends a preventative approach over a "reactive/punitive" approach. When expulsion or suspension are used, the AAP recommends it should only be after all other approaches have failed to work. Recognizing the quickly rising tide of news stories where kids are suspended for drawing a gun, or pretending to play war during recess, I thought this policy statement was timely. Amazingly, it seems that some school districts are listening, either to the AAP or to the research evidence, and are starting to shift their policies to reflect a more proactive approach.
What Does This Mean for Home
School Start Times
Since it is unlikely your school district is going to make changes this year (if they already haven't), the only line of defense to protect your child's sleep is you. The AAP recommends between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of continuous sleep per day (naps, and sleeping in on the weekends don't count). If you child's school starts at the same time as the high schools in my area (7:30 am), meaning a 6:45 am rise at the latest (taking into account average commute times and morning routines), putting bedtime right around 9 pm or 9:30 pm, if they fall asleep within 5 minutes. Accounting for some wind-down time, and night time routines, a 8 pm or 8:30 pm bedtime is safer. Let that sink in for a minute. What teenager do you know likes to or is ready to fall asleep at 9:30 pm? How about being told to get ready for bed at 8 pm? With that in mind, think of ways you can change your schedule to allow for more consistent sleep for your child. Consider reducing the amount of electronics in the child's room to eliminate chances for distraction from sleep.
Zero Tolerance Policies
While most parents do not generally have 'zero tolerance' rules in their home, there is one thing that parents do do that can contribute to the problems created by these policies. Most often when a child is harshly punished in the home (grounding for a week, or a month), the punishment not only affects the child, but the whole family. Harsh punishments have been proven to be the least effective at reducing problem behaviors in children. Sure they might work in the short term, telling a child their grounded for a week will elicit immediate compliance, especially if it is grounding from something they really enjoy doing. Typically, however, three days into the grounding the parent often find themselves wanting to give their child a break for "good behavior". This leaves you and the child on a roller coaster of punishment and reward, with ever increasing climbs and valleys, until one of you (usually the parent) can't stand the ride any longer, ending in complicity to child non-compliance. Just like zero tolerance policies, harsh parenting causes more long term damage, at the expense of short term peace. Parents can check out the following blog posts for more guidance on appropriate parenting techniques:
- What do you think you can do to help increase your child's positive sleep patterns?
- What techniques have you used that have decreased problem behaviors, without harsh discipline?
Au, R., Carskadon, M., Millman, R., Wolfson, A., Braverman, P. K., Adelman, W. P., Young, T. (2014). School Start Times for Adolescents. Pediatrics, 134(3), 642–649. doi:10.1542/peds.2014-1697
Board, T. T. E. (2014, August 20). Moving past zero tolerance in L.A. schools. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-discipline-lausd-20140821-story.html
Lamont, J. H., Devore, C. D., Allison, M., Ancona, R., Barnett, S. E., Gunther, R., Young, T. (2013). Out-of-School Suspension and Expulsion. Pediatrics, peds.2012–3932. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-3932
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