A Nation of Lazy Teenagers?

Sleep deprivation affecting mental health? Its not a new thing is it? Getting enough sleep keeps us healthier, being well rested makes for better learning and better results are hardly new concepts are they? Its fairly basic common sense really.

Research suggests that as a nation we pay very little attention to our natural body clocks and that, due to the late running natural rhythm in adolescents, insisting on early starts can result in sleep deprivation and affect both a young persons ability to learn and their mental and physical health.

So in 2016, sleep experts at Oxford began “The worlds largest randomised control trial” with around 100 UK schools called Project Teensleep where they would trial starting at lessons at 10am.  Studies have found no negative outcomes for moving to a later start time and no positive outcomes from earlier starts. The studies went on to show that the later start was of benefit to students when used alongside “Sleep Education” which covered topics like night time light exposure and mobile devices etc…

Fast forward to now, January 2019. The trial is complete, research is in. A petition to change secondary schools to a 10am start gained over 180,000 signatures, and so went for debate in parliament. And what happened? Well it hit the news headlines and divided the nation!

Across social media I have read comments about lazy teenagers. How they need to be in school on time to prepare them for the real world. They wont be able to start an hour later when they are at work. They will only use the extra hour to play longer on their Playstations. The list went on. I read a comment at one point that was highlighting the number of adults who just seemed to *want* to make life harder for teenagers simply because life is hard as an adult. I voiced my thoughts on several posts and forums, but there were some reactions and comments that honestly really surprised me. Especially when I saw some of the discussion in a home education group as well!

So, as a mother with 3 teenagers living in her house, who also has a 4 yr old and a nearly 2 year old and am currently laid up with a badly broken ankle….. I am obviously thinking about how lazy teenagers really are. My teenagers don’t go to school, some days I don’t see them until nearly 11 oclock, do I think that makes them lazy? No. I am happy for them to follow their bodies natural rhythm, go to bed when they are tired, eat when they are hungry and wake up when they wake up. Does getting up late equal lazy? because some of the comments that I have read this week on social media seem to suggest this to be the case. Are teenagers in the wrong for playing games consoles at night and then getting up late in the morning? Does this mean that they are lazy? It certainly seems to be the common opinion.

Let us think about it, teenagers. Out of those I know who are at school, they get up around 7am to get showered, dressed, breakfast and to school to be on time for an 8:45 start. Some get up even earlier, this obviously varies regarding the locality of the school etc…  They are at school, having lessons, their whole day planned out for them including toilet breaks and when to eat until 3:15 ish. Again this varies school to school but it is safe to say that approx. 6.5 hours are spent at school. Is all of that time spent doing things that they want to learn or are even remotely interested in? probably not. It does however, include carrying books from classroom to classroom, structured PE lessons and being told when they may eat and drink and when they may visit the toilet.  Let us then consider adding an extra hour? perhaps on to that day for any after school clubs, sports or detentions. Travel home? anything from 10 minutes to an hour realistically. Walking, cycling, bus or a lift from parents. So getting home around 4 or 5pm? Homework? Most students get set several pieces of homework a day in different subjects, how much time is spent completing or working on that? an hour? enough to allow 20 minutes based on 3 subjects? That seems pretty tight to me but ok, lets go with that, that could take us to around 6pm? Dinner time? Somewhere in all of this young people need to be able to chill out, watch some TV, play a computer game to unwind, chat with friends and generally unwind from the day. So what time should they be going to bed? If they go to bed at 9:30 that *could* potentially have allowed them 2 hours after dinner for any household chores, social time, relaxation, personal hobbies etc….  The Sleep Foundation and several Childrens Health organisations state that teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours sleep to be at their best, so a 9:30 sleep time would only just give them 9 hours, and that is if they are able to get straight to sleep at that time.  What if they do additional classes after school? need to include study time for exams in to that? Have longer travel times etc ? There are so many variables. And let us not discount the issue of “rush hour” with everyone clamouring to get places at the same time. Does their day sound lazy to you?

My teenagers don’t go to school, they don’t have to get up early unless they are going somewhere that they have chosen to attend. They aren’t lazy, they get up when they need to and get to their destination on time. Whether that is the Home ED youth project that starts at 11am or being up at 5am to help me at work every Saturday.

My 14 yr old can be up at 9am getting ready to leave the house at 10am to arrive in time for his sports course. Spend 2 hours running around and still come to work with me in the evening, help me move furniture, handle money, talk to my members and then choose to sit at a table while I am working and do his book work until 9pm at night. He will then help me pack away. load the car and come home. Meanwhile the other two teenagers are at home having also done 2 hours at a course their evening is then spent looking after the little boys and getting their dinner, washing up etc before Daddy gets home. They will often sit until late in the evening doing coursework, book work and practise exam papers for their chosen subjects. Their brains are working, and will rest when their bodies tell them that they need to. So I certainly don’t think that a lay in equals lazy.

You may have a busier working schedule, but *most* people are finished when they clock off for the day, they don’t have pages of work that still need to be completed. *Most* working adults have made the decision to apply for certain roles and are paid to attend, if those hours didn’t work for you anymore you would be able to look for another job with different hours and some people are even in employment where they can request to work their hours at different times to fit in around life, not all jobs are 9 to 5 are they? And most importantly, you are paid to attend work. School is a whole different ball game. And our teenagers will have years a  head of them to work, to enter that rat race and experience that stress of working to pay bills and to eat etc…… Their teenage years are still very much part of childhood, as studies have shown, their brains and their bodies are still developing!

There are cries for educational reform, for attention to be paid to the rise in adolescent mental health, for research and evidence to be paid attention too. Yet when a campaign for a specific change with scientific backing gets enough signatures to go before parliament for debate everyone gets heated and blames “Lazy Teenagers”. Despite the evidence suggesting that the proposed later start time could really improve GCSE outcomes.

I have done various different shift work jobs over the years. 24 hr shifts, waking nights, evening and morning shifts working office based and care and support in the community. I have been able to adjust to which ever shift I am on. I didn’t go to school, yet I learnt how to use an alarm clock and how to not be late when I needed to be somewhere. I self motivated and managed my own studies all the way to degree, without having to attend tutorials or lectures at set times. This is not a skill that teenagers need to be at school for, and even if it was, a 9am or 10am start would not affect their ability to learn that.

Every Sunday, neither my husband or I have to work, we both enjoy a lay in. If we wake up before the little ones then we will stay in bed and stick the tv on, one of us (him at the moment as I am in cast) will go make tea and toast and bring it back upstairs. There it is, the real world, adults enjoy getting up later as well! I am sure that many adults enjoy their holiday times for the same reason? It doesn’t make us lazy does it?  And SCIENCE has found that teenagers DO need more sleep than adults!

And so what if teenagers are lazy? Is that the end of the world? Is lazy the worst thing that a teenager can be? At a time when anti social behaviour is rife and complaints about teenagers hanging around the streets are common, is playing computer consoles so bad?   In a time when there is bullying, depression, anxiety, drugs, self harm, violence, vandalism, theft etc….. Is lazy really so bad?

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