Tag Archives: Teens

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Enter the Bright Schools Competition and Learn About the Links Between Light, Sleep and Health

Seven tips for healthy sleep habits



Sleep is vital for our brains, perhaps especially for the brains of growing teens. Lack of sleep can limit our ability to learn and concentrate, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Drowsiness affects every aspect of our health, from our propensity for illness and our ability to manage stress to our food choices, behavior, and driver safety. At the same time, natural light during the day has been shown to positively impact students’ sleep, health and school performance.

So, what can we do to ensure that the children and teens in our lives get the sleep their bodies and minds need? Here are seven habits that have helped my family with sleep.

Establish and stick to a bedtime routine

Many children appreciate predictability in their schedules. Saying good-bye to the day in a peaceful and consistent way can set the tone for restful and rejuvenating sleep.

Try to enact a predictable bedtime with routinized, calming activities, such as a warm bath, transitional songs, lullabies, bedtime stories, or a special and consistent way of tucking your children in. It’s never too late to start a new routine, and you may be surprised at how comforting this habit remains into the teen years. Of course, we allowed for occasional late nights, but we found that having a routine helped us all with sleep as well as family bonding.

Allow enough transition time at bedtime

Transitions are harder for some kids than for others. Be sure to include enough time to wind down and enough time to sleep.

Older children need time for transitions, too. Try to have them stop their homework, turn off technology and leave a half hour for quiet reading, reflecting or family sharing before bed.

Get enough hours of sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get approximately 8-10 hours of sleep. Most teens not only fail to get the recommended amount of sleep, but tax themselves with a full slate of academics and extra-curricular activities, which requires extra sleep. If your kids seem tired during the day, consider saying “no” to more activities, in favor of getting adequate sleep.

Don’t neglect to lead by example – be sure to get enough sleep yourself.

Follow the patterns of natural light

In traditional cultures, people’s daily rhythms matched those in nature, and it’s still best to imitate this as closely as possible. Bedrooms should be dark and quiet in the evenings. Use eye shades and ear plugs if necessary. Likewise, natural light in the morning signals your body to wake up.

This is something we’ve always done in our house, but through the Bright Schools Competition, I also learned that natural light is especially important for mental alertness during the day. One study showed that natural light in the classroom improved students’ test scores by as much as 26%.

Ensure that bedrooms are technology-free

For most kids, computers and phones in bedrooms are so tempting that they’ll pass up sleep in order to stay on their devices. Even if they’re not in use, the blue light from computer and other screens can prevent the body’s release of melatonin, which is crucial for sleep. Keep the devices outside of the bedrooms, to charge up overnight as you do. Consider using inexpensive travel alarm clocks instead of phone alarms.

Tackle your problems before going to bed

Give some thought before bedtime to your to-do list and anything that’s bothering you, to prevent those thoughts from keeping you awake. Jot notes on a pad to read in the morning. Likewise, try to prepare as best you can for the morning – have backpacks packed and permission slips signed. Lay out kids’ clothes. Make ahead what you can for lunch.

Advocate for later school start times

Between their natural circadian rhythms, which keep them up late, and early school start times, teens are perpetually sleep-deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation. We can help them by ensuring that they get all the sleep they can in the time allotted by their schedules and by teaching them to budget their time to prevent as many late-night homework sessions as possible.

Read more tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Read more about teens and sleep.

Learn more about how light effects sleep.

Learn more about and enter the Bright Schools Competition for students in grades 6-8. Winning teams will be awarded as much as $5,000 per team member, and teachers of winning teams will be awarded as much as $3,000 in prize value.

Bright Schools Competition materials have been created by the National Sleep Foundation and the National Science Teachers Association and include lesson plans to help students explore the effect of light on sleep and circadian rhythms, while participating in important STEM education. Teams can engage in original research to create videos, reports or advocacy campaigns.

Put together a team and spread the word about the Bright Schools Competition today!

The Bright Schools Competition is designed for students in grades 6-8. Registration is now open and the submission deadline is January 29, 2016. For more information on the competition, including eligibility requirements, visit www.BrightSchoolsCompetition.org.


This content was made possible by Volunteer Spot and the Bright Schools Competition. Views expressed are my own.


Beyond Differences: Pledge Now to End Bullying and Social Isolation

Bullying is defined as aggressive or unwanted behavior. Most school-aged children find themselves on one end of a bullying relationship at some point in their lives. Bullying can take many forms. Abuse can be physical or verbal. It can take place in person or online. It often takes the form of social isolation.

Beyond Differences is a teen-led grassroots organization that was formed in Marin County, CA, specifically to combat social isolation, which is often a precursor to more aggressive bullying behaviors. The group leads powerful peer assemblies in middle and high schools. I’ve had the privilege of seeing the very impactful work that the Beyond Differences leadership accomplishes. Social acceptance can make the difference between a pleasant school experience and a torturous one. Here’s one message on the Beyond Differences site from parent Sheri Mowbray:

Their message of inclusion and care helped bring my daughter out of a serious depression and allowed her not only to feel less socially isolated, but empowered her to want to take a leadership role to help others in the same circumstances.

A cornerstone of Beyond Differences’ work is the No One Eats Alone program, which encourages students to include others who might be experiencing social isolation. The educational and psychological benefits of the program go far beyond the week in which it typically occurs. Schools report more compassion and inclusiveness among students year-round. Using tool kits on the Beyond Differences web site, the program can be replicated anywhere in the world.

Here are tips for parents with adolescents who suffer from social isolation from Amy Wilner, PsyD.

You can take a stand against bullying by learning more about Beyond Differences and similar groups. Please join me in taking this pledge from Take Part to add your name to the growing list of people who pledge to end bullying and social isolation.

This post is sponsored by Take Part. The opinions expressed are my own.


Slow and Frugal: A Teen’s 10 Tips for Recycling and Reuse

Many of us are trying to do our part to help the planet. In our family we’ve seen that thoughtful consumption, use and reuse can also help us lead slower, less expensive, more purposeful, and more family-centered lives.

The biggest influence on my relatively green habits has been my daughter, Anna. From a young age, she showed great concern about our environment and the world she would inhabit.

Plastic waste in the oceans and in our landfills upset her so much that she embarked on a lifestyle of extremely limited consumption of plastic, oil, paper, water and other non-local or non-sustainable goods, which she has followed for about the last eight of her 17 years. She bikes to school and errands.

She buys little and often reuses or upcycles clothing and other items, by embellishing them or piecing them together to create new items.  She uses reusable bags, water and food containers, and water-bottle holsters, like these:

Dovetailing with Anna’s desire to use less is a desire to spend less. She sees these two practices as intertwined. Saving resources results in financial savings, and vice versa. Both also result in time savings, and the ability to spend precious time engaged in fun hobbies and with friends, rather than shopping and consuming.

Through Anna I’ve learned that, as conscious as many of us try to be, there is much work to be done, if we really want to change our habits and be thoughtful consumers and good stewards of the Earth. She recently sat down with me to offer her top ten suggestions for reuse, using less, and ultimately saving money, while conserving natural resources.

1. Bring your own shopping bag, instead of using plastic

“Only buy as much as you can carry.”

2. Bring your own utensils

“Camping sets are very inexpensive at army surplus stores.”

3. Turn off faucets and lights when they’re not in use

4. Don’t spend money just because you can

“You will end up wasting money. Focus on what you really need. Put yourself on a budget. Sometimes you have to decide whether you want one large thing or multiple smaller things.”

5. Try to go to local stores and buy local goods

“This eliminates imports and the transportation they require.”

6. Bike or walk instead of driving

7. Get out in nature

“This will immediately make you want to recycle and help our environment because you’ll appreciate where you are.”

8. Use your local library

9. Buy second-hand clothes and upcycle them

and the most important thing you can do:

10. Stop buying plastic bottles

Americans purchase 29 billion plastic bottles of water each year. This takes 17 million barrels of crude oil to make, enough fuel to keep one million vehicles on the road for a year. The energy used to pump, process, transport and refrigerate bottled water takes an additional 50 million barrels of oil each year.

The creation and transportation of plastic causes much of the world’s pollution. Bottles in the landfill take centuries to decompose and many end up on our beautiful shores and in our oceans. It’s easy to see why limiting plastic consumption figured in three of Anna’s ten recommendations.

It’s been humbling and refreshing to be enlightened by my own daughter and to watch her grow into a thoughtful and resourceful young person. I’m delighted to think that there are many more like Anna who are conscientious consumers and educators. Her tips can easily be put into practice by anyone who wants to make small changes that will have large ripple effects on their lives and the life of the planet.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman and Poor Planet

This post originally appeared in Frugal Mama.

Teens Waiting Longer to Get Driver’s Licenses

There was a time when turning 16 automatically meant a trip to the DMV to become a newly minted driver, at least if car-culture movies like American Graffiti, and even many of our own teen memories, are to be believed.

But a new study from OSPIRG (Oregon State Public Interest Research Group) reveals that today’s teens are not so quick to gun their engines and join the ranks of drivers, and that cruising the main drag in a steel-skinned living-room-on- wheels isn’t the rite of passage to adulthood and freedom it once was.

In 2010, a  mere 28% of 16-year-olds had driver’s licenses, compared with 44% in 1980, another study from the University of Michigan Transportation Reseeach Institute tells us. While this doesn’t take into account new driver’s-license-age laws, older teens are driving at lower rates, too: From 1980 to 2010, 17-year-old licensed drivers dropped from 66% to 45%, 18-year-olds from 75% to 61%, and 19-year-olds from 80% to 70%.

Why is this? According to University of Michigan’s Michael Sivak, the economic downturn has made it more difficult for young people to own a vehicle and cover its costs, from gas to insurance to the actual car. In addition, he notes, an increasing number of young people are moving to cities that have regular public transportation. And then there are those who are driving less or not at all out of concern for the environment. He also points to internet access and the popularity of social networks and texting, which means that kids can interact with each other from their own homes and from places that they don’t need a car to access.

With all the appropriate messages out there warning teens against texting and driving, think of it this way: Given the choice, many teens would rather text than drive.

In addition, there’s a desire among younger people, for the first time in decades,  to live in walkable cities, with good public transportation and biking. (There is a desire among older people for this, too.) Once there, they often rely on car-sharing programs through Zipcar and similar lines, in a sincere effort to drive less while also not having to worry about storage and maintenance.

My daughter and her peer group seem to mirror the national trend. Anna, who is 16 1/2, is in no hurry to get a driver’s license. Some of her friends got them at 16 or so (the minimum age for licensing in California). Many others waited. A couple admit to having been nervous. Still others are just taking their time. For various reasons, they don’t perceive a strong need to drive.

“Fewer parents are working 9-5 than they used to,” Anna said, “so they’re more available when needed. Kids get accustomed to getting rides from their parents and other drivers.”

That was Harry Miller’s story. The Sebastopol, CA, teen got his driver’s license the day after his 18th birthday. “I started online driver’s ed. the day after my 16th birthday,” he said. “I took a long time to finish. I was a little afraid of being behind the wheel and driving around.” Once he got his permit, he started driving with his parents. Although driving became easier, he didn’t particularly enjoy it. The original permit expired before he passed the driving test, and a new permit was issued. The day after his 18th birthday, Harry passed the behind-the-wheel driver’s test and got his license.

“I had been getting rides (to school) with my dad, and there were always enough people driving places, that I didn’t really need a license,” Harry said. “The only reason I got one was to help my mom and dad drive my younger brothers places.” Harry added:

“The day I got my license, I drove home by myself. The minute I was by myself, I realized how stupid I had been for not getting my license sooner. I loved it. Driving alone is the coolest thing.”

Diane Worley’s daughter, Ivy, of Mill Valley, CA, got her license the day before her 17th birthday. “It was a combination of not being ready and being too busy to schedule the driving test,” Diane said. “I got my license the day I turned 16, couldn’t wait for the independence of driving. My only serious car accident ever was in my first three months of driving. Ivy has not had an accident yet. I think that speaks for itself.”

In Los Angeles, possibly the car capital of the U.S. (and where I learned to drive), many parents cite the “congested streets” and “crazy drivers” as the reasons that their kids and teen acquaintances are delaying getting their licenses, often past college.

And then there’s Mill Valley, CA’s Trevor Perelson, 18, who simply relishes the journey more by bike than he would if traveling by car. And it’s not as if he doesn’t travel long distances. He just completed a 14-day, 450-mile round-trip bike ride, in addition to using bike transportation daily. He noted:

“Driving a car is not even half as much fun as riding a bike.”

“Half of my friends got their licenses at 16,” Trevor said, although most of his college-age friends don’t drive. “If they do, they regret it. To have a car means you’re forced to work or have your parents pay for the car and gas. Not everyone has that luxury.” Trevor, who has a job building chicken coops, said, “I don’t think it’s worth it to have to work to drive a destructive machine that’s less fun than biking. It doesn’t make sense. I can be anywhere I need to be on my bike in an hour or by bus in 40 minutes.”

“The time spent working just to obtain and drive a car would be wasted. I’d rather live, learn and travel.” Trevor added, “There’s a communal aspect to bike riding. If I see someone I know, and I’m on a bike, I can stop and say hi. You can’t do that in a car.” Sounding much like a true slow proponent, he noted:

“I like to feel the land versus just going over it — feel the steep hills and the humid climate, see the people and hear the noises.”

That said, Trevor does plan to get a driver’s license so he can drive in emergencies. When he occasionally needs to go somewhere by car, he carpools. Though quite passionate, Trevor makes a point not to tell others how to live. “I don’t preach it,” he said. “I just have fun doing it.”

Anna also recently get her permit. She decided she wants to know how to drive, even if she doesn’t do it often. And, she’s right — it’s a good life skill to have in one’s arsenal. We’re also in the school of many parents who think that, while it’s great that our kid gets around on bike and foot, and by carpooling, learning to drive now, with her parents and in her home town, before she goes off to college in a year, will actually make her a safer and more confident driver, when she does inevitably drive (although, frankly, waiting a little was fine, too.)

Whatever the laws in your state and the new driver’s age, driving practice and safe habits are paramount.

Here are some safe driving tips for teens.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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