Tag Archives: Adolescence

High School Students Sleeping In For Health

Teenagers aren’t lazy.

They don’t sleep late because they’re slug-a-beds, who’s only enthusiasm is for sleeping as long as possible. Biologically, they can’t help themselves. And having to go to a high school where classes start far too early in the a.m. doesn’t help either.

The four worst years of my life coincided with the four years Sarcasmo spent in high school.

His school started at 7:20 in the a.m. That meant he got up at 6:15 and I got up 15 minutes later, just in case. I barely made it through those four years and I know for a fact that the early start made Sarcasmo even crankier than he normally would have been.

Researchers have found that during adolescence, as hormones surge and the brain develops, teenagers who regularly sleep eight to nine hours a night learn better and are less likely to be tardy, get in fights or sustain athletic injuries. Sleeping well can also help moderate their tendency toward impulsive or risky decision-making.

That’s all well and good, but what teenager have you met who will be getting a regular eight to nine hours of sleep? Not many. After all, it seems like they can’t even force themselves to bed before 11 or 12 at night. It turns out that the reason for that late bed time isn’t just because teenagers are, by nature, prickly and annoying.

During puberty, teenagers have a later release of the “sleep” hormone melatonin, which means they tend not to feel drowsy until around 11 p.m. That inclination can be further delayed by the stimulating blue light from electronic devices, which tricks the brain into sensing wakeful daylight, slowing the release of melatonin and the onset of sleep. A Minnesota study noted that 88 percent of the students kept a cellphone in their bedroom.

That’s only one of the reasons I’ve been advocating for years that high schools need to start their days later. Teenagers’ biology basically prevents them from going to bed early enough to get the requisite hours of sleep each night. By starting school early, the school districts force teenagers into being perpetually sleep deprived.

Sure, stating high school later in the day might make sports practices end later and cut into time for some extracurricular activities or after-school jobs, but I think it’s a sacrifice that’s worth making. After all, the job of high schoolers is to excel in high school, so they can get to college and learn what’s necessary to get a good job. That’s much easier to do if they’ve been getting enough sleep every night.

New evidence suggests that later high school starts have widespread benefits. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied eight high schools in three states before and after they moved to later start times in recent years. In results released Wednesday they found that the later a school’s start time, the better off the students were on many measures, including mental health, car crash rates, attendance and, in some schools, grades and standardized test scores.

I think part of the problem with moving high school start times to later is that, for some reason, there’s this sense of being a macho manly type if you’re able to do without a lot of sleep. It’s as if folks believe that sleep is for weenies. Do we really need to start toughening up teenagers by depriving them of sleep and then demanding they perform as if they were well rested?

The University of Minnesota study tracked 9,000 high school students in five districts in Colorado, Wyoming and Minnesota before and after schools shifted start times. In those that originally started at 7:30 a.m., only a third of students said they were able to get eight or more hours of sleep. Students who got less than that reported significantly more symptoms of depression, and greater use of caffeine, alcohol and illegal drugs than better-rested peers.

“It’s biological — the mental health outcomes were identical from inner-city kids and affluent kids,” said Kyla Wahlstrom, a professor of educational research at the University of Minnesota and the lead author of the study.

If you’re a dude who, like me, thinks it’s time for schools to start actually making decisions that are good for their students, then you should head on over to Start School Later, an advocacy group for health and safety in education.

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A Very Small Casket

by Richard

Lobo wanted to be a wolf. Or a fox. Something wild and free and perfectly capable of surviving and thriving on its own. And that had a really fabulous, furry tail.

On Thursday, I sat in an overflow audience of a funeral home as we laid his small body to rest.

At only 12, Lobo still had another six months until he reached his teens, making him one of the youngest kids in his 7th grade class. Now, he will always be the youngest kid in his class. They will move on. He cannot.

I only met Lobo a couple of times. Once, he went to Hyper Lad’s birthday party and stayed the night. I enjoyed my time with him. He was a good kid, full of conversation and odd, compelling turns of mind. He wasn’t like talking to your average pre-seventh-grade kid. A while before the birthday party, Lobo hit the Renaissance Fair and came home with a fox tail. A real (ish) fox tail that could be hooked over his belt, as if Lobo was a wolf (or fox) in reality and was just slumming it as a human for a little while.

His death hit the school hard. Hyper Lad’s best friend Scruffy was very close with Lobo and, in fact, was the one who introduced Lobo to Hyper Lad. Scruffy wasn’t dealing at all well with his friend’s death, moreso because of the way Lobo died.

Over the weekend, Lobo killed himself. While his dad was out of the house, Lobo found something strong enough, tied a slip knot in it and then hung himself until dead.

During the funeral service, I watched as Lobo’s dad, who had already survived the death of Lobo’s mom from beast cancer, came to the fresh realization again and again that his son would not be sitting up from the casket, would not be laughing over the joke he’d played. Watching Lobo’s dad was like watching. . . I’m trying to think of a horrible metaphor to drive home the point, but the problem is I can’t think of anything more horrible than what he went through.

I won’t — can’t — put myself into the mind of a 12-year-old who considers that the only way to make his pain stop was to end his life. I just can’t make that kind of conceptual  or emotional leap. I don’t know what went through Lobo’s head or why the help so many people tried to give him wasn’t enough.

That’s only one of the tragedies left behind when someone takes his own life. No one can know for sure if there wasn’t just that one little bit of help they could have offered, just one word that might have made a difference. Not knowing can be the second-worst part, behind only missing the one who’s gone

Because I’m a parent and I’m constitutionally incapable of not turning any situation into a teachable moment, I talked to all three of our young dudes about suicide. We talked about Lobo and what he did. And we straight-out talked to each of the young dudes about suicide. Having been through adolescence before, we know what fresh hell it is every day. Thoughts both good and bad roar through adolescent minds, each given equal weight, and adults never know where they will land.

No matter how bad their problems, we told our young dudes, no matter how heavily it bears down on your back, it will pass. It might not get better, it might only be that the pain comes from somewhere new, but this pain will pass. And there will be something new in your life. There will be another reason to wake up tomorrow, another reason to look forward to your next breath.

Ending your life, ends forever the possibility that you will once again feel joy. You will die knowing only pain. That would be a shame. There is so much joy in life, so many wonderful things to be seen, if only the eyes of the depressed were capable of looking past the agony parked on their souls.

If you out there are one of those people who can’t see beyond the hopelessness of the next breath, who can feel only the pain of a life gone horribly wrong, there is help. I won’t say hope, but there is help. Even if you can’t reach out to someone you know, there are caring people out there right now who want nothing more than to listen to you, to listen to your problems and commiserate with your woes.

There are folks out there right now who want to hear from you. The national suicide prevention lifeline is at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It’s open 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Don’t wait. If you think your friend is contemplating suicide, be a better friend and talk to someone about it. Better for your friend to be mad at you because you brought in an outsider.

Suicide is a voluntary act. You can stop it, but it’s up to you. Choose wisely. There is more to life than pain.

I only wish Lobo could have known that before he decided there was no other way out.

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Freaky Friday: Half A Brain

by Richard

It really is true, dudes. Your teenager really does have only half a brain. And guess who gets to be the other half? Not really a question there. It’s us. Wheeee!

I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating: young dudes and dudettes have brains. No, really. It’s true. The problem comes in that they’re not fully developed. For a long, long time.

This from a recent column by Lisa Duran, a retired high-school guidance counselor, and trauma and grief specialist.

Dr. Jeffery Georgi, a consulting associate in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine, gave a six-hour presentation as training for trauma and loss therapists at the Trauma and Loss in Children Institute’s national assembly in July. Dr. Georgi’s specialty is adolescent brain research — specifically, how the brain handles substance abuse and trauma.

Dr. Georgi and other researchers have shown that the brain has two periods of major neuron growth: the second trimester in utero and between the ages of 6 and 10.

However, during adolescence, the brain — which weighs 3 pounds and contains over 150 billion (yes, with a “b”) neurons — actually streamlines itself and weeds out excess. It is developing cleaner and more direct pathways, which make it a more efficient and effective working organ.

Dopamine, the brain’s neurotransmitter that is involved in pleasure-seeking behavior, and that Georgi calls the novelty-seeking neurotransmitter, is going wild during this time of pruning and rewiring. Which might go a long way toward explaining things like thinking it’s a good idea to jump off a roof holding only an umbrella. And, no, that’s not a cliché. It’s experience.

This means that adolescents are driven to seek novelty and activity and, yes, pleasure. But they also are driven to learn.

Many teachers and parents will argue vehemently with that last statement, but it’s true. Teenagers are driven to learn. Maybe not what we want them to learn, but they are driven to seek activity, novelty, pleasure and learning.

That really is true. The problem comes in when we realize that, left alone, they’re going to be learning killer new moves in that video game, or how to sneak a bong into their room. That is, they’ll be learning stuff we don’t want them to learn.

That’s why we, as parents, need to be there to guide them into learning useful things (like how much fun it is taking out the garbage), or at least things that won’t actively harm them. And we need to do that sort of thing for a long while.

Brain research also clearly shows that this marvelous organ grows and develops from the back to the front, and the front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is where judgment, evaluation, decision-making, impulse control and a bunch of other great stuff that we consider “mature” is housed. This prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the age of 25.

Yep, we got a long way to go. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

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