It’s that pesky S-word. But before you start thinking I’m using foul language, the S-word to which I’m referring is sleep. Yes, sleep is something Americans are snubbing these days, starting with our tweens and teens. As Christian parents, we have even more motivation than our secular counterparts to make sure our kids are getting enough sleep, but it starts with some hard data from the medical community.
It’s pretty easy to tell if a toddler hasn’t had the recommended 12 to 14 hours of sleep, but just because a child is old enough to exercise a measure of self-control doesn’t mean sleep deprivation is not an issue. According to the Mayo Clinic, school-aged kids still need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep, while adults can get by with a tad less — 7 to 9 hours. Since teens aren’t directly addressed by those categories, we can look to the Sleep Foundation and see that the recommendation for teenagers is 9.25 hours (although some might be fine with as little as 8.5 hours). Fewer than 2 out of every ten teens get 8.5 hours of sleep on school nights, and fewer yet get the recommended 9.25 hours.
The devastating effects of overstimulation and sleep deprivation among teens is getting attention in documentaries like Race to Nowhere and books like It’s Your Kid, Not a Gerbil: Creating a Happier & Less Stressed Home. While overtired adults may be able to think less coherently and work less effectively, teens are more likely to deal with long-term emotional effects like anxiety and depression. Angry outbursts, memory lapses, and illnesses can also be traced back to lack of sleep. Add to that the tendency toward caffeine addiction and substance abuse, and not getting enough sleep becomes a serious problem indeed.
It seems that God truly had our “frame” (Psalm 103:14) or biological constitution in view when He instituted the principle of Sabbath or rest all the way back in Genesis (2:2). Of course, we don’t want to be legalistic about this gift that God created for us, as Christ Himself pointed out (Mark 2:27). Most of the time, though, our teens aren’t forgoing needed rest to pull the proverbial ox out of a ditch; they’re simply becoming adrenaline junkies, running from activity to activity until they’re ready to crash. Once they finally get home, they still have homework to do, and then they stay up texting and gaming and doing other unnecessary activities online.
We are stewards of our bodies and need to treat them well (1 Corinthians 3:16). As parents, we need to guide our teens in making cautious choices. If we overschedule our teens and fail to set needed boundaries on electronics or “screen time,” we’re discouraging their good health and ability to learn and work well and behave properly and with good judgment. By contrast, when we teach them to set limits and take time for all our responsibilities, including rest, we’ll be helping them make wise choices that will help them past these teenage years and into adulthood.