When a parent said to me, "I don't know what to do anymore," she meant that she didn't know what to do to get her son to apply himself in school. But her declaration caused me to consider a broader context: all aspects of parenting.
Like teaching, parenting has changed dramatically in the last 60 years. While many of the rules and strategies employed by teachers and parents before this time can still work, their presentation has had to change.
Demanding that something be done "because I said so" by either, for example, just doesn't work as well as it did in 1952 or even 1982.
Another job that has changed dramatically in the last 60 years is that of a major league baseball manager. Back then, the manager of the team had, like a teacher or a parent in the 50s, indisputable authority.
Today, possibly because of the escalation of players' salaries even mediocre players make more than the manager! and the mobility inherent in free agency, a manager doesn't automatically receive respect.
The most effective ones, however, earn it. Sure, they still set rules, but unlike the managers of the 50s they communicate rather than dictate. As a result, "because I said so," is rarely heard in a content contemporary clubhouse.
So if you're a parent who doesn't know what to do with a troublesome son, take your cue from the guys getting paid millions to shepherd 25 surrogate ones. Set rules, but also explain them.
And the first rule that needs to be set even for high school students is a specific bedtime. Don't feel as if you're being dictatorial doing this.
Just reasonably cite the research.
For example, more than one study has shown that grades go up when students sleep enough, but not too much. A typical one was published back in 2001 in the January issue of the International Journal of Clinical Health Psychology.
A Spanish professor and a Spanish secondary school teacher compared grades and sleep patterns of 592 mostly middle-class students from a rural region in Seville. They found the adolescents sleeping more hours did noticeably better in mathematics and that the difference was even more dramatic in, surprise, surprise, physical education.
The groups who did the worst in these subjects were those who regularly slept less than 6 hours a night and those who consistently slept more than 9.
A more recent study adds another reason for why parents are well within their right to set a specific bedtime for teenagers. An increase in obesity and a lack of fitness have been found in those who get to bed late.
Research done at the University of South Australia and published this past fall in the journal Sleep found of the 2,000 Aussies aged 9 to 16 studied, those who got to bed late were 1.5 times more likely to become obese and almost 3 times more likely to be physically inactive.
In an interview published in Medical News Today, one of the researchers, Dr. Carol Maher, said, "While scientists have already made the connection between less sleep and poor health . . . what is interesting and new [in this study] is that the timing of sleep may be an important factor in predicting health in young people."
Maher's research, that those labeled as early-to-bed averaged 27 more minutes of vigorous exercise a day and that those listed as night owls averaged 30 more minutes of sedentary activities like television watching and video game playing, reinforces that observation.
A study presented at the 77th annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians last October also linked a lack of sleep to weight gain through Body Mass Index (BMI). In a survey of 255 high schoolers, the females who slept less than 7 hours on a school night had an average BMI 4.7 percent higher than those females sleeping more than 7 hours. The difference in males was also statistically significant, 3.8 percent.
Co-author Radha Rao, MD at the DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, offered this insight to Medical News Today to why less sleep leads to more weight. "When you don't get enough sleep, it drives leptin levels down [a hormone that signals satiety], which means you don't feel as satisfied when you eat.
"Lack of sleep also causes ghrelin levels to rise [a hormone that stimulates the appetite], so you want more food."
Other adverse medical consequences to teens getting insufficient sleep include an eventual increased risk in type 2 diabetes and heart disease as well as a number of more immediate mental health concerns: decreased reaction time, irritability, memory lapse, impaired moral judgment, and ADHD-like symptoms.
A lack of sleep also suppresses the immune system, increasing the likelihood of sickness during cold and flu season.
While the proper amount of sleep per night is often a personal issue, most health organizations suggest teens get a minimum of 9 hours per night, a total that's probably only going to be reached if parents enforce a set bedtime.