Sleepless in Suburbia

Conversation this morning just before my teen, Allison, got out of the car to walk into school, and just after she’d complained how tired she was and how she’d stayed up until 2:30 a.m. doing homework and how she couldn’t get up this morning and how she’d forgotten her headband and now her hair would look bad and how she was going to be late to school, and…


Uncool Mom : You know, sometimes you’ve just got to put your homework aside and say, I need sleep.

Teen daughter: (Getting angry, voice rising) I’m not going to do that!! If I did, I’d fail everything! You’re always saying it’s important to get good grades, so DON’T BE A HYPOCRITE!!  (Door slams, she walks up the sidewalk to school)


I didn’t roll down the window and yell at the top of my lungs that I loved her, like I’ve done other times that she’s yelled at me on the way to school…she was sort of right, and besides, I didn’t have the energy, having been up past 1 a.m. myself, offering guidance to my 11-year-old, who had been diligently working on her Science Fair display board until past midnight, even though she started her experiment weeks before her friends.  “Can I go to school late and finish this in the morning?” Emmie asked.  That wasn’t an option, but after she’d finally laid everything out on the board, just how she wanted it, I told her she could go to bed, and that I’d glue the remaining pieces onto the board.  

“You never did that for me,” called down Allison from her perch at the upstairs computer.

“You know that’s not true,” I answered, ticking off a list of her memorable experiments—the “Do birds prefer table scraps over bird seed?” one, the “Does shower spray really work?” one, and the ribbon-winning “What keeps cut flowers alive longest?” one, all of which were finished late at night with mom’s assistance.


As some of you know from earlier postings, Allison has gotten involved in high school theatre this year and was very happy to get a lead part in a small musical not long after school started.  While the practice schedule was rough, it wasn’t anything compared to the current one for the big spring musical, the annual jewel in the school’s well-deserved theatre crown. (This year it’s “Fiddler on the Roof”.)  She is one of a few freshmen to make it in the show, and even though it’s a small part, practices recently ratcheted up to where they’re now every day from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. or later, with weekend practices as well.  Oy vey!  This heavy practice schedule will go on for about 2 ½ weeks, and then things will get better.  But during that time, it’s just assumed, I guess, by the school, that kids do their homework late at night and during any down time at rehearsals, which sometimes is scarce.


It’s the same attitude behind so many other kids’ activities on school nights:  Varsity games, both home and away, with the accompanying drill team, cheerleaders and marching band; dance team practices at local studios that don’t start until 8 p.m.; required concerts that aren’t over until almost 9; select softball games that begin at 9 p.m.  And don’t get me started about ice-related sports in Texas, which compete for limited indoor ice time, with many teams getting stuck practicing in the wee hours of the morning or very late at night.  Emmie’s gymnastics team practices every night for 3 hours, two days ending at 8:45 p.m., and two nights ending at 8 p.m. I don’t know how she’s going to keep her eyes open tonight…


Yes, as a society we give short shrift to the importance of sleep for kids (not to mention adults)—and yet we all know how important it is.  We know the obvious stuff–that it helps build immunity so kids’ bodies can fight off all the flus and other illnesses present in schools; helps brain function so they’re better prepared for tests; helps kids’ emotions so they can handle stress; helps prevent daytime drowsiness and car accidents; and that after you’ve had a bad day, it gives you a fresh start on a better one.  Most of us have also heard about the less obvious benefits of sleep—preventing heart disease and other major illnesses.  Sleep is such a God-given gift, yet we don’t do much to support it.


The contradictions are endless.  Texas colleges want near-perfect grades just to walk in the door, yet the student also must be well-rounded and show involvement in extracurricular activities, so it’s not good if parents say, “No more! Only homework and nothing else!!”  Schools strive for accolades and money that are given when their students attain high test scores and meets certain benchmarks, yet they don’t do anything long-term to encourage those students to get more sleep so that they can do better on those tests.  Kids are told during Red Ribbon Week, “Don’t do drugs” and yet with their crazy schedules, it’s pretty enticing when they’re also told, “Take this drug and you can stay up for three days straight!”


While parents can definitely put their foot down and not let their children’s schedules be controlled by coaches and teachers (last night was not the first time I’ve kept Emmie home from the gym in order to put schoolwork first), we can only go so far.  School administrators and others could take small steps that would help our children (and our families) in a big way.  Stop scheduling choir and band concerts, plays, etc. on school nights.  If that means all those groups would have to fight for precious weekend time, so be it.  One concert for each group per year is fine with me.  (Or here’s an idea: do an extra concert during class time, tape it, and put it out on the Internet.  Or sell it on CD or DVD.  Now there’s a better fundraiser than candy bars, and a lot less fattening.)  Schedule school-night games right after school.  Stop allowing anything to hold practices after 8 p.m. when there’s school the next day. Or, if you’re going to allow it, give all the kids involved extra time to finish tests and projects.  And stop trotting out juniors and seniors during freshman orientation who are “kid wonders”, involved in five extracurriculars at once and making straight-A’s, and telling the unknowing audience, “Yes, you can do it all!”, because it’s a lie.  Because if those kids truly are involved in all those things and getting great grades, there’s one very important thing they’re probably not doing, at least not enough.  Sleeping.  ###




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