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Students' Sleep Deprivation is not a School Problem

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In a recent policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics stated that most students in middle and high school don't get the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night. Doctors have concluded, therefore, that delaying high school start times, where the morning bell often rings as early as 8:00 a.m., would allow teenagers to get more sleep. This recommendation has a great deal to do with doctors' concerns that sleep deprivation in teenagers can result in obesity, poor grades, car accidents, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, the counter argument is that adjusting school start times will impact on district education budgets because it requires more buses. Most elementary schools start their day after their local high schools, which means that a later start time for the respective high schools might require more buses. Also, many high schools schedule after-school activities, to include sports practices and games, that would need to start later in the day.

There is no doubt that this issue merits serious discussion by educators, parents, and even policy makers. Not only does it impact on the safety of our teenagers but on their academics as well. The bigger question, however, should be: What is the real issue and why aren't we considering the common sense solution, i.e., make sure our children are in bed at a reasonable time each night so they can get the appropriate hours of sleep? In other words, where is the individual discipline that is so critical to being a responsible member of society? Why don't we simply ask parents to supervise their children and make sure they go to bed on time?

Many of our social ills - to include problems with our children's academic performances - can be traced to declining parental supervision. The issue of middle and high school students' sleep deprivation clearly falls within this category. It is time to stop looking for either excuses or alternative courses of action to problems that have clear solutions. This problem has more to do with discipline than anything else and it is time that parents and their children stepped up to the plate and became part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. In recent years we have often blamed our schools and their teachers for our nation's declining performance on international test scores. Sleep deprivation is an issue that needs to be solved in the home - it is not a school problem.

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