Parenting teens is HARD. One thing that makes it even harder is when your teens are exhausted from lack of sleep. If there is one thing that is epidemic with teens, it is overstress and lack of sleep and it is clearly affecting their mental health at a time in life when they are struggling to navigate some incredibly difficult situations at school, with parents, with friends, and sometimes in their own minds. It’s so different from when you and I were teens.
It’s ironic that just when they are at the point where their bodies need more sleep, their level of activities peak and they get MUCH less than they actually need. Then we wonder why they are cranky and uncommunicative. Yes, I know some of it is just natural teen hormones, emotions and part of the normal growing up process. But I honestly think some of it is just due to plain sleep deprivation.
Why our Teens are Exhausted So Much of the Time
Here are three important facts:
Teens NEED more sleep
Teens don’t WANT to sleep
Their schedules don’t PRIORITIZE sleep
In fact, at this age, nearly anything is more appealing than something boring like sleep. That’s where a bit of firm parenting can help. Your teens sleep and teenage brain development are depend entirely on you and the rules you are willing to set.
Here are just some of the distractions that are getting in the way of seeing that our exhausted teenagers get enough sleep to function properly:
- Sports practice, theater practice or drill team, or (whatever your particular teen is into) sucks up massive amounts of time, pushing homework and other necessities until later and later in the evening.
- Homework pressure and anxiety – particularly from AP or other advanced classes.
- Cell phone/internet use – This is a big one. Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, or just texting – every one of them can suck up hours and hours of precious sleep time.
- Netflix binges – just like everyone else, Netflix is a huge time suck because everyone wants to keep up on their favorite shows. The problem is – every new series can eat up 20-30 hours worth of time. Most teens don’t have that kind of time to invest without shortchanging sleep.
- Video game usage – I think we all know what a problem this one can be.
- Work schedules. A lot of teens have part-time jobs and that can be a big problem. It’s a fine line, you want to encourage responsibility and independence, but sleep has to fit in there somehow.
- Plus just normal time to eat, shower, pick out clothes, all the regular day-to-day stuff that we all do.
With schedules like this, it’s no wonder that teens are exhausted pretty much every day of the week, poor kids.
Honestly, I think the electronics is the biggest problem, but mostly the cell phones. While I love my cell phone/computer, etc. I know perfectly well that these devices are designed to be highly addictive and I’m quite thankful that they were not as big a “thing” when my kids were growing up. There’s no way a teen with their immature brains is going to be able to avoid that level of temptation.
But I worry for my grandkids who are all in the teenage range now. My teenage grandson shared that he will often stay up until 3 in the morning binging Netflix or watching YouTube videos and I assume this is a fairly common practice. My younger grandson has been known to get started playing Minecraft or Fortnight within 30 seconds of rolling out of bed. Yes, I do have some issues with that from a parenting point of view. But my son and daughter-in-law deserve to raise their children the way they see fit, so I try to stay out of it.
I think part of the solution is to set some firm policies in place for your whole family and stick to them like glue. Yes, your teen will NOT LIKE them. But then again, they used to poop their pants and eat Cheerios off the floor and you managed to break them of those habits, right? And if I recall, that took a lot of time and no small amount of reinforcement, correct? But you both lived through the experience.
How to Help Your Exhausted Teenager (even if they get MAD about it)
Here are some policies you might consider to help your exhausted teenager get more sleep:
- Set some limits on extracurricular activities. This is a hard one because coaches, directors, and teachers have been given a massive amount of authority over kid’s schedules these days. But who is the parent? Yep, you are and you have veto power concerning what is best for your son or daughter.
You can excuse them from excessive practices, rehearsals, or assignments, if needed. Yes, you are bucking the system and that’s a hard thing to do, but it’s necessary to produce well-rounded, balanced kids who aren’t stressed to death on a daily basis. Involve the school administration if necessary.
- Give some thought to AP classes. I know they are important for college, etc. But I see so many kids who are having to be on meds for various anxiety situations and I think some of it is due to excessive parental pressure in academics. Yes, academic excellence and a great transcript is important, but if kids are stressed out of their minds in their teens, they are likely to be burned out by the time they hit their 20’s.
This may be something we need to re-think. The scary thing is that suicide rates are at a terrifying high. Some kids don’t make it to their 20’s. We need to make some better choices, and I’m not qualified to tell you what they are, but the stakes are very, very high.
- Control the phone/Netflix/YouTube situation by closely controlling the WiFi usage. There are a number of great apps that monitor the usage and/or shut down the WiFi at certain times of the day. Do a little research and USE them. Set some FIRM policies about devices at mealtime or at bedtime.
Maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned, but my three sons were never allowed a TV or a computer in their rooms. Bedrooms were used exclusively for sleeping or changing clothes – they were not caves for our children to spend all their time in. Interestingly enough, now that they are all adults, I don’t notice them doing this in their own homes either. Maybe I set a precedent? I hope so.
- Lockup the phones at night. This is probably the MOST important necessity because kids have all sorts of alerts that pop up all around the clock and they will wake up to check them. Set up a charging station in the kitchen and REQUIRE that all phones live there at night. It’s your call if the adults have to follow this rule as well, but it’s not a bad policy. And it definitely sets a good example that sleep matters.
- Agree to a set bedtime. This is a toughie. But open a dialogue with your teen and get them to agree that some kind of a limit is needed here. Then it’s just a matter of some tough negotiation to get to an agreement on a time. Especially if they are frequently late for school because they can’t get up in the morning – that gives you a little leverage. Or if they are just grumpy zombies in the mornings.
Once you get the bedtime set, I’d shut off the WiFi at that point to avoid having to nag them into bed every night and to prevent them cheating on the rules. I love teens, but they are both SMART and SNEAKY little buggers!
You know your teen. My youngest son needs a lot of sleep, so he had a set bedtime until he was about 17 or 18 and then I let him have a bit more latitude as long as he could demonstrate he could manage it. Of course, now he’s a Zombie – well, literally. He works in haunted houses and escape room more or less year-round and they keep some pretty strange hours. So I cut him a break and let him sleep undisturbed until about 10:00 in the mornings, when he has to go to his college classes and/or work.
But you’ve got to find what works for your teen, even if he or she doesn’t entirely agree. The teenage years are soooooo hard. But usually if you present it in a good way and give them a bit of input into the decision, you’ll find that they don’t take it as hard. Kids this age love to be treated like adults and love to have a bit of control, so if you can get them to sit down at a quiet dinner and discuss it like adults rather than the typical “I’m the parent and you’ll do what I say” discussion, you’re liable to get a lot more buy-in and maybe come up with a compromise that will work.
But with other kids, you have to just draw the line and make them follow the rules. They say you have to pick your battles and this is definitely one worth fighting. That extra hour or two of sleep could tip the balance on your child’s mental health and well-being and that is so important.