I know that teenagers need lots of sleep but ours seem to do it the wrong way round. They stay awake late, listening to their iPods long after we think they’ve gone to sleep, and then they’re impossible to budge in the morning, which makes for a very stressful time in our house. In the weekend they’re often still asleep at 11am, while we’re up and about. Surely it makes more sense for them to go to sleep earlier and get up earlier, or is there something I don’t know about the mysterious ways of teenagers?
Karl, by email
There’s a sleep-inducing hormone called melatonin that kicks in at about 10pm in adults. The problem is that in teens, it doesn’t hit until about 1am. Even worse, teens are thought to need around nine-and-a half hours’ sleep, so when they’re fitting it in around school hours they simply can’t get enough sleep. While some schools in the US have had success with putting the school day forward about three hours for adolescents, I suspect that this isn’t going to happen in New Zealand any time soon.
It would be great if our teenagers could hand in their electronics at about 9.30 on Sunday to Thursday nights and then quietly read until they drop off to sleep. You’re more likely to get this to happen if you model this behaviour yourself. It would require enormous self-discipline as a parent, but it could be done. I’ll leave the final word to a quote from Nora Underwood in her article The Teenage Brain: “It’s not easy to fight nature; perhaps the best parents can do is to encourage a slowdown of activity at a reasonable time in the evening, keep technology out of the bedroom, caffeine out of the fridge, and let their kids catch up on weekends.”
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