I've always enjoyed telling stories, so when someone says, "How long have you been teaching?" I no longer say, "Since 1983." I now tell this tale from last year's Parent/Teacher Conferences.
Being one of Palmerton's two seventh grade language arts teachers means I teach half of the seventh grade students two periods of reading, writing, and grammar each day.
At past Parent/Teacher Conferences, some of my former students whose son or daughter has the other language arts teacher say hello. Often they'll enter my room and explain, "It's been such a long time that I wouldn't expect you to remember me, but I'm Jane Doe, and you taught me in 1991. My daughter's in seventh grade now but has Mr. Kery."
Last year, a variation of that occurred. Parents were wandering about, waiting for their scheduled appointments. I was walking down the hall. A former student whose daughter was taught by Mr. Kery was walking toward me.
Obviously, her daughter had not mentioned the name of the other language arts teacher because this former student stopped just in front of the other parents, craned her head forward as if that would somehow confirm what she was seeing, and then exclaimed, "My god! Are you still here?"
That story, my friends, verifies that I've been teaching a long time, which I hope helps you believe me when I say, "It's never been tougher."
But the "it" refers to more than just teaching teenagers. It's also never been tougher to be a teenager.
And, without a doubt, it's never been tougher to parent one. Effective parenting today like the pursuit of health and fitness is a never-ending endeavor that's more an art than a science.
Talk about a daunting job. You rarely get a break, you often get grief, and you have no manual or guidebook to follow.
Plus there's added pressure at certain times. Like the first few weeks of school. Success begets success, so if your child does well early, you know there's a far greater chance that he or she will do well for the entire school year.
Since the Are-you-still-here story proves I've been around a long time, let me offer three bits of advice for the new school year. It's based on what I've witnessed and is supported by science.
Number one: Monitor and maybe even limit all screen time.
I was dumbfounded this summer by the Northwestern University research that found 55 percent of 2,300 parents surveyed were not, repeat not, concerned about their children's media and technology use. Shouldn't you be concerned about anything that occupies hours upon hours of your son or daughter's free time?
I still encounter kids so hooked on video games that their schoolwork suffers, but that problem is petty compared to those created through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and e-mail. Mr. Carroll, our guidance counselor, says "a lot" of his time each school day is spent advising kids on how to deal with the problems fathered by the foolish use social media.
Furthermore, I had a few students last year tell me that they barely slept the night before because they kept sending and receiving text messages.
Research at Harvard University by Robert Stickgold has shown that students who text message all night or any students who stay up all night retain little from school lessons the day before. Stickgold demonstrated this by giving volunteers a task to learn and then allowing some to sleep sufficiently and some not at all. The sufficient-sleepers' group remembered the skill and performed it significantly better than the no-sleep group. In fact, some in that group could recall little at all.
Number two: Make sure your kids get enough sleep.
Insufficient sleep is a far more common problem than students who pull an all-nighter playing video-games or text messaging. And insufficient sleep will do more than impair scholastic performance. A lack of sleep, for instance, weakens the immune system, making your child more prone to colds and flu.
Additionally, recent research has demonstrated a link between sleep deprivation and the two great modern man-made maladies: obesity and diabetes.
In research published this spring in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, mice exposed to constant light lost their internal body rhythms, resulting in poor energy metabolism and insulin sensitivity, harbingers of the two aforementioned ailments.
Number three: Provide a proper, protein-rich breakfast. It's a way to help teens keep from gaining unwanted weight, for such a breakfast has been shown to reduce overeating later in the day.
In a study published this spring in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the adolescent female subjects who consumed a relatively light breakfast of 350 calories that was 40 percent protein reported a higher degree of satiety and fewer cravings throughout the day as opposed to the females subjects who either skipped breakfast or consumed a 350-calorie breakfast that featured a ready-to-eat cereal and a paltry amount of protein. Moreover, the high-protein group also snacked less later at night.
Since surveys indicate that up to 60 percent of school-aged kids skip breakfast, it's important that you do all you can to entice your child to eat something healthy and high in protein before school, even if it's nothing more than low-fat chocolate milk with a scoop of protein powder.