Q: Since school started this year, my two "tweens" seem to be increasingly irritable. They tell me they love school and all of the activities they're involved in; they have plenty of friends, etc. But every morning seems to be a battle to get them both going and out the door without setting off a tantrum. Do you have any advice?
Jim: It's possible that your children might be getting caught in the "fatigue whirlpool." That's what researchers call the downward spiral of poor sleep and poor behavior that disrupts a lot of households.
You'll know you're in danger if your kids' schedules are so jam-packed that they fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, then barely drag themselves out of bed for school the next morning. Sooner or later, fatigue will set in, and their attitude will start to spiral. Once that happens, you're in the fatigue whirlpool, where lack of sleep and poor behavior feed off each other.
The solution is to adjust your kids' schedule and to help them get more sleep. Experts say that children need nine or 10 hours of sleep to be at their best. That might not be possible every night, but when kids are well-rested, they'll think more clearly and feel more engaged.
Also, a "lights out" policy at bedtime can help your children fall asleep faster. Light exposure suppresses melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate sleep. Turn off the lights, the screens and all of those illuminated gadgets in your kids' room. A night light or a small lamp is OK, but the darker the room, the better. I have our teens charge electronics overnight in the kitchen.
Think about routines, think about consistency and think about timing. Those are the keys to get out of the fatigue whirlpool.
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Q: I loved to read when I was growing up, especially imaginative stories. Now my own teenagers think cracking open a book is uncool. Why do you think that's happening, and do you have any suggestions?
Bob Waliszewski, Director, Plugged In: Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1440 changed our world. It took reading out of the hands of elites and put it into the hands of everyday folks. Books have been one of life's greatest pleasures ever since. No longer hand-scribed on parchment, these printed volumes educated, unified and entertained the masses while occasionally changing nations (think "Uncle Tom's Cabin"). And until about 100 years ago, books reigned supreme in occupying free time.
But let's face it: There really wasn't much competition back then. Sure, there were symphonies, plays, operas and orators, but no one had to choose between the latest superhero movie or "Moby Dick"; playing "Fortnite" or reading "A Tale of Two Cities"; posting selfies on Instagram or checking out "Anna Karenina."
Maybe it's partly the appeal of screens to visual learners. Maybe it's the sensory rush of computer graphics over the imagination within our own minds.
Here's what I know: Teenagers do still read. But treasured classics of yesteryear often gather dust while the latest young adult novel (often with lots of problematic content) moves to the top of teens' reading lists (if there's a list at all). Meanwhile, misspelled texts and empty social media substitute for C.S. Lewis and Harper Lee.
That said, I have a suggestion to bring back book consumption in the home. I think parents would be wise to implement a system in which, let's say, 30 minutes of reading a classic translates into 30 minutes of screen time. Not only would this increase book reading -- and learning, of course -- but decrease the nearly nine hours of screen time adolescents engage in per day. (For reviews of many popular books, see pluggedin.com.)