Tag Archives: teens

Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

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Unschooling: Teens & Sleep

Years ago, your child was up at 6 a.m., peeling eyelids back, ready for you to help him greet the day. But not so with your teen. Maybe you’ve been up puttering around all morning, fixing yourself some lunch when you notice your teen is still snoozing. What the heck is going on here?

It turns out, quite a few things.

We all know that when children reach puberty, their hormones change. What we sometimes don’t know or remember is that these hormones have an effect on a person’s sleep cycle. Nocturnal melatonin production decreases significantly during adolescence.  It actually shifts, making the adolescent’s body more awake in the evenings, not feeling ready for an early bedtime, and then leaves them groggy in the mornings with the melatonin still onboard. Add to that, light – artificial or natural – also inhibits the production of melatonin. Teen body clocks, their circadian rhythms, are shifting.sleeping teen

Translation: Teens’ bodies are physically geared to staying up later at night. Because they still need a good nine hours of sleep, that means they’ll need to sleep later in the mornings. Lots of data on this can be found at the National Sleep Foundation.

This certainly doesn’t correlate with a typical high school schedule. Research shows that teens in school settings are basically sleep deprived.  This sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress, impaired memory, and inhibited creativity. It certainly interferes with learning! And those behaviors that people consider “typical teen difficulties?” They’re worsened if teens are in desperate need of more sleep. They may even be created by their lack of adequate rest!  It’s not about power struggles or undermining authority, as some parents fear. It’s something physical happening to their bodies.

When parents of teens opt out of school, their families are no longer forced to duplicate high school schedules. Teens can stay up late and then sleep in. This ensures that they get a full night’s sleep to be well rested and ready to explore and learn. A new study by National Jewish Health found that homeschooled teens had a big advantage because of their healthier sleep habits.

When parents ask their children to go to bed earlier so they can all get up earlier, they may be working against nature.  It’s not the end of the world to do it, but why set up a problem situation? Why turn it into a power struggle?

mother daughterAnother benefit to parents working with their teen’s natural, inner body rhythm is that some of the best teen-parent conversations happen during those late hours! My teens were often feeling more relaxed and winding down from their day around 11 p.m. Those late night conversations were real treasures, often giving insight into what was happening in their lives – what they were nervous about or looking forward to. They were open to listening to my suggestions or stories about what I’d seen in the past.

When my kids were teens at home, I let them sleep late in the mornings and go to bed at whatever hour they chose. It often looked upside down when compared to the rest of the world’s schedules. Homeschoolers (and “schoolers” – as my kids used to call them) would ask me, “How will they be able to hold down a job, follow a schedule, adhere to expectations, if I never impose any schedules on them as children?”

It’s a non-issue. It would have been like practicing the act of waiting in line. Do we really need to set up an arbitrary practice for this?Don’t we do that at grocery stores, at the post office, at the DMV, at the restaurant… multiple opportunities every day? Or maybe they’d suggest that everyone practice eating or sleeping or walking? Sounds pretty ridiculous, right?

Honestly, when they were younger, I’d think, “Well, they just won’t work a job that conflicts with their natural rhythm. Lots of people work evening and night shifts.” I kind of expected that they’d continue to follow their internal body clocks.

But that’s not what happened.

My teens found jobs they wanted and made their rhythm cooperate. They learned what “a good night’s sleep” felt like, and they wanted it! So if they had to get up early on some mornings, they’d go to bed a little earlier the night before. They’d set their alarm clock, take their showers, and head out the door. It wasn’t long before they were poking their head into my room, waking me briefly to say they were off to their 7 a.m. shift! The naysayers’ predictions just didn’t play out. My teenagers managed just fine.

One summer, my daughter Katie went to stay with her grandmother in Dallas so she could attend a month-long intensive drama program. She got herself up at 5 a.m., checked her email, fixed her own breakfast, showered, got dressed and caught the city bus to go downtown. She was 15. My daughter Alyssa attended cheerleading competitions and had to be completely ready and backstage by 7 a.m. This meant getting ready before 6 a.m.! Two of my teens worked early shifts at Barnes and Noble for several years and never had any problem with being punctual. They took early morning classes in college and had no problems making it on time.

I share all of this to reassure you about your teens and their “wacky” sleep schedules. Parents really have nothing to worry about. Take advantage of those late nights with your teens. Chat with them about life, in the kitchen over nachos – even if it’s midnight! Talk to them about what you’ve read or learned about sleep and body rhythms. No one needs to rehearse getting up early. They will do it when they need to.

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“I’m Not Your Friend, I’m Your Mother!”

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Sue and Michael PattersonWhen people are uncomfortable, they tend to rely on axioms and phrases that may or may not have any validity at all. Raising teenagers can sometimes put parents in this position. But if we really look at the advice people have shared through generations, we might discover that much of it isn’t even applicable. For instance, we’ve all heard, “I’m not your friend! I’m your mother!” But what does that really mean? Is it impossible to be both? Do we really want both?

Instead of getting caught up in some globalized phrase about parents not being friends, let’s examine both to see if we could implement the characteristics or if there’s a conflict.

Friends trust each other, share information about what they’re doing, who they’re with, what they’re trying – why would a parent not want that? If you have your child’s trust, you will be in so much better position to guide or offer advice from your experience. As parents, you will be able to react to situations with less anxiety, if you have spent time developing that relationship. Building trust takes time, and how we parented them when they were younger will have a direct effect on the relationship we have with them as teenagers.

Katie & Me at Venice Beach

When parents find themselves pulling The Mom Card, often what they are saying is that they want blind obedience. They want their teen to value what they have to say, and follow their instructions. But remember when they were three and they were making their bed on their own (or fixing a sandwich later, or building a fort), we recognized the importance of not jumping in “fix” what they had done. We realized that that was how they learned, their confidence would grow, and they would get better with time. The same applies with teens. Getting more confidant with their ability to make decisions in their world, comes from getting to make those decisions.

Operating from an authoritarian position creates obstacles in the relationship. When teens know they can bring their problems and concerns to you and not fear your judgement or punishment for choosing something different, they will be more likely to listen to what you have to say. And, as parents, you’ll get another glimpse into their world and how they’re handling it.

Alyssa & me in Austin

We can’t expect our teens to tell us everything. That’s part of their development. Nor can we, as parents, share our own problems with them – that’s something we need to do with our own peers and friends. So, while I wouldn’t call it a two-way street, I would suggest that becoming friends with your teenager is a good thing.

And, think about how you define being their mom. What characteristics are important to you? And maybe it’s time to share that with your teens. Is it something they see or want from you? Opening up this communication will be so helpful for both parents and teens to understand each other.

Take a look at some of those parental tips that get passed down through the generations and see if they really apply. Don’t buy into them, just because it’s an easy phrase to use to basically dismiss looking at a situation more closely. There is no need for either/or, us against them, friend vs. mom.

Are You Listening to Me?

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Are You Listening to Me?

Unschoolers spend lots of time together – and for the most part, it’s an exciting fun adventure! Yet sometimes, even the best unschooling mom can get tired or distracted.

Consider these scenarios…

When I was little, I was one of those children who talked a lot and LOUDLY. I can remember my cousin actually turning to my dad saying, “Does she have a volume button?” Obviously, I did not. Nor did I forget the comment. I tell you this because I want you to know that I get it. My mom, who had an exhausting job, would have to come home to this high energy kid who wanted to talk and talk and talk.  I can remember sitting on the floor while she read the paper or a book and just nodded along at me. I’d ask her, “Are you listening?” “Mhm,” would be her reply. Nothing more. I knew she was not listening.

When my kids were little, I was trying to juggle a variety of things at once. My kids were around all the time, obviously. They were ESPECIALLY around if I was on the phone with someone. Which was often. The internet was just taking off and I was thrilled about talking with other moms from around the country.  My kids would ask me questions and bring something to show me. They’d ask me, “Are you listening?” “Mhm,” would be my reply. Nothing more. I wasn’t listening to them.

Skip forward another decade and shoe is on the other foot. My teens are sitting with me in the car. I’m asking them something about their day. They’re texting on their phone. From the moment they walked out the door, then there was a brief moment of “calling shotgun” for the front seat, then back to non-stop texting.  I’d ask, “Are you listening to me?” “Mhm,” would be their reply. Nothing more. They weren’t listening.

I give all three of these scenarios because I think you’ll be able to relate to at least one of them. No one was doing anything malicious in any of these situations.  People were just caught up in the moment.  Everyone has probably been the victim and the ignorer at some point in their lives. Probably at multiple points in their lives.

But I think as parents who want to do better – as PEOPLE who want to do better – we need to adjust ourselves.  Life flies by quickly. Now that I’m in my 50s, I’m well aware of that fact.  The people who are in our lives are there because we value them.  They deserve our attention. Real attention. That attention we give indicates to them how much we love them, how we appreciate them, how they MATTER in our lives.

It’s a habit of laziness really, a lack of thoughtfulness.  It’s not being fully conscious about the every day life decisions we are making. I really want to be present for the people that are in my everyday life. And I want them to be present with me.

If your child wants to talk with you, appreciate them. Give them your full attention. They are mentally noting how you interact with them.  It’s telling them their worth and your interest in them. And think of how that translates for later in their life…if a mother is not interested in them, who would be? These are big messages we are conveying and so often, we don’t even realize it’s happening.

Make an agreement that there will be actual conversation with the person in front of you – your child, your partner, your friend. Put down the texting, stop reading your email, don’t glance at your Facebook newsfeed. Let people know that they DO matter to you. Look them in the eyes and really listen to them.

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