Let’s replay a scenario some parents may be familiar with after four months of children at home. It’s 5:30 a.m. Parent is getting up for work and hears the shower. It’s their 9th grade son. Parent’s first thought: “How wonderful! Early bird gets the worm!”
Then said parent realizes the son is showering before he goes to bed after a long night of video games and social media.
With school just a few weeks away, many of us parents are facing the grim reality that our middle school children are keeping the same hours as college frat boys.
For months on end (already double the time of a traditional two-month summer), kids have devolved into “extreme unstructured behavior,” according to a sleep expert who spoke with the AJC.
While some students stayed on the ball during digital learning in spring, many teachers reported students’ wonky sleeping patterns became increasingly apparent as the weeks rolled on. Students would stay up into the wee hours on social media, playing video games, or watching television. They’d roll out of bed minutes before the online class and attend bleary-eyed and unengaged, or not show up at all.
And that was before summer vacation even started.
“What happened with coronavirus is every day became a weekend,” said Donn Posner, an adjunct Stanford University professor, “and everybody was allowed to sleep in their own preferred phase.”
That “preferred phase” for teens is later, with the pandemic “exacerbating[ing that tendency by removing the guardrails on their lives.” While pre- and elementary school-aged children have had their schedules impacted with later bed times, too, experts at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital say children in middle and high school are “particularly susceptible to this problem.”
Interestingly, many people, including Posner, don’t agree with early school start times because it goes against older kids’ “natural rhythms” and makes them perform more poorly. Bobbi Hopkins, M.D., medical director of the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Sleep Center, said many kids have been getting closer to the recommended amount of sleep during the pandemic.
Still, reality will come knocking August 3. Fact is schools start early and kids need to be alert. Kids enrolled in the Pickens Virtual Academy are going to be held to much more structure this year, too.
It’s easy to wag a shameful finger and say parents should have been more on top of things, but it’s been an unprecedented year, adults have been stressed and – understandably - more lenient than usual. It may have been fun to stay up all night and get up barely in time for lunch, but for learning to commence this year, it’s time for the party to end. And it’s a recognized duty of all parents to have their children (from kindergarten to a high school senior) ready to learn when the bell rings.
Outside of getting kids to bed at a decent hour by shutting off devices - or doing whatever works - we need to step up and foster good education and physical habits. The pandemic has likely created gaps in learning and lazy behavior that educators will try to mitigate when school starts, but starting right this second, parents can get children prepared.
If COVID cases spike again and kids are all back home, it will be necessary for the parents to carry through on educational plans and this discipline will be needed. While it’s easy to blame the times and do nothing, ultimately that fails the children.
Let’s set our kids - and teachers - up for success by implementing positive behaviors now and keeping them up, no matter what happens in the fall. Too much more downtime on Fortnight and TikTok and our kids brains and bodies will go to mush.