EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


September 10, 2006

Pampered teens need to go to bed earlier

Taylor Armerding

It's that time of year.

The days grow shorter, the nights grow longer and cooler, our massive public education bureaucracy lumbers into gear and we are treated once again to annual laments about how overwhelming life is for our adolescent population.

The population that, by the way, is just coming off a vacation of a couple of months and will enjoy another four weeks of vacation during the coming 10 months while the rest of us worker bees, who pay the taxes that fund their 180-day "work" year and path to successful adult life, are lucky to grab two or three weeks for the entire year.

The population that, by the way, has more entertainment options, from iPods to laptops to cell phones to personal DVD players, more clothes and more cars than a previous generation ever dreamed of.

The population that, whenever it is criticized for creating a nuisance by hanging out and harassing people in area downtowns, complains that there is "nothing to do."

But every September, we get a blast of guilt trips from experts and psychiatrists, all weighing in on how adults are putting way too much pressure on our poor teens. Every year there is a slightly different spin on the theme. Last year, I recall a flurry of stories on how "over-scheduled" they all were. Too many classes, too many tests, too many sports, too many dance and music lessons, too many activities.

This year, I'm reading that they don't get enough sleep. And that's our fault because we start the school day too early. This has infiltrated even the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal, where the father of two adolescent boys held forth a week or so ago about how interrupting their deep REM sleep is "the single greatest teen crisis in America." He said "studies show" the growth hormones in teens alter their circadian rhythms to the point where their biological clocks are magically set to California, or even Hawaii, time.

I hated getting up early, too. I still hate it, and I'm so far beyond growth hormones that I don't even remember how they felt. But I do remember that in middle and high school, I dragged myself out of the house at 5 a.m. every day of the week to deliver papers before I caught the 6:45 a.m. bus to school. I never fell asleep in class. Neither did anybody else. And something caused me to grow 6 inches and add 35 pounds between sophomore and junior year.

At the end of that kind of day, complete with cross-country, basketball or track, I had no trouble falling asleep at 10 p.m.

In previous centuries, adolescents in an agrarian society got up at 4:30 or 5 a.m. with their parents to milk the cows or do any other of a long list of chores. Did growth hormones pass them by? Where were the "studies" that showed they really needed to go to bed after midnight and sleep until 10? And why weren't their parents all being reported to the DSS? Oh, that's right, there was no DSS. How did that generation survive?

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