A+ Advice for Parents

Q: My son, Brett, stays up late and misses the bus often, so I drive him to school. He's cranky and it's not pleasant. He gets marked tardy, which leads to detention. Our district announced a later start for high schools next year, so I've asked the school to void the detentions. The counselor won't and says it's still Brett's job to get there on time. How is that fair?

A: Seriously, Mom, you're taking helicopter parenting to a new altitude.

That being said, many high schools are responding to research about teens' sleep patterns by starting school later. "With the better-known physical and biological manifestations of puberty often come not so subtle switches in moods and emotions. ... Sleep cycles also change, making young people more nocturnal," says Stephen Gray Wallace, the director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education.

In a blog post for Psychology Today, he adds: "We've known for a long time that the demands of teens' school, sports and transportation schedules don't exactly line up with what's best for teens' health and safety."

Wallace points to a 2014 University of Minnesota study of 9,000 students, which found that when schools adopted later start times, teens experienced less tardiness, substance abuse and car crashes. Their school attendance, standardized-test scores and overall academic performance improved.

So, yes, going to class later can be better.

But that doesn't mean Brett can't try to get to class on time. The staff and most of his peers do. He can, too.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that teens get 8 1/2 to 9 1/4 hours of sleep every night of the week. So how can Brett achieve that with his school's current schedule?

Try these tips from the NSF and other sleep experts:

-- Establish a consistent sleep schedule and stick with it 7 days a week. Don't allow late nights and "sleeping in" on weekends and vacations.

-- Make sure Brett gets enough exercise, so he is physically tired when he hits the sack.

-- Take technology out of his bedroom. Research shows that having a TV, computer, smartphone or another similar electronic device in the bedroom can disrupt sleep, especially for teen boys.

-- Make Brett aware that lack of sleep not only can cause him to be forgetful and do poorly on assignments, but it also decreases creativity. It can even cause acne, weight gain or other health problems.

-- Check his schedule. Is it too packed? While it's good to be involved in a broad range of activities, being overly committed to clubs, sports, programs or a job shouldn't come at the expense of sleep.

This last tip is very important, writes Wallace: "In reality, sleep issues are not all that are placing our kids at risk of anxiety and depression ... With the best of intentions, adult America has created a society of stress for its young people. It is one in which we have normalized not only irresponsible school start schedules but also an irrational college application and admissions process."

So if Brett's schedule is chock-full, take it down a notch to alleviate his stress and help him get better sleep. For more information, go to sleepfoundation.org.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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