Let’s perform a thought experiment for a moment:
if you knew that in your child’s school there was a toxic substance that reduced the capacity to learn, increased chances of a car crash and made it likely that 20 years from now he would be obese and suffer from hypertension, you’d do everything possible to get rid of that substance and not worry about cost.
What would you do if you were worried about your child’s safety in school? In a nutshell, anything and everything it takes to resolve the situation. This quote, from Dr. Judith Owens, is not discussing a chemical; she is describing early school start times. We know that insufficient sleep caused by excessively early school start times:
- Makes children irritable and obese
- Causes insulin resistance analogous to a prediabetic state
- Lowers standardized test scores
- Increases the risk of accidents on the roads for all drivers in a community
- Can lead to mood disorders, substance abuse, and school drop outs.
Early school start times have effects like this the children in your community and in mine. [In my town, the two middle schools start at 8 AM and 7:50 AM, and the high school starts at 7:25 AM]. The arguments marshaled against changing school start times have nothing to do with the welfare of children, and only reference inconvenience and monetary expense. Importantly, communities that have changed school start times have found that the inconvenience and expense is actually less than anticipated, and the benefits are considerable. I’ve written before about the difficulties the teenagers have excessive homework and early school start times, and unfortunately there is a physiologic limit on how much teens can compensate for this, as their biological clock pushes them to stay up later as school start times get earlier.
This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics has added its voice to the chorus advocating for our children by recommending the school start times for middle schoolers in high school age children be no earlier than 8:30 AM. If you are a parent, and educator, or concerned citizen who cares about the welfare of your community, I would urge you to reach out to the school board and superintendent of schools of your community and to advocate for this change. Nothing will change unless you make it. There is a lot of inertia against changing the status quo. One good place to start in Start School Later, a national organization which has many local chapters working on precisely this issue. Here are some links which provides an extra information on this topic:
• “Let Them Sleep: AAP Recommends Delaying School Start Times of Middle and High Schools to Combat Teen Sleep Deprivation”. Here is the complete report: “School Start Times for Adolescents”, by the Adolescent Sleep Working Group and Committee on Adolescence, and Council School Health.
• “Let Them Sleep, Start School Later”, from Seattle Mama Doc