I love it when my husband goes out of town. I tuck my kids into bed, work on the computer for a few hours, and read my book, without a book light, until way past my bedtime. It feels like I’m fifteen again, indulging in my every whim. But unlike the teenager whose shifting circadian rhythms make it difficult for them to fall asleep, I’m a walking zombie by the time my husband returns home.
In Wendy Mogel’s book The Blessing of a B Minus, she starts her chapter on time by referring to a solution she offers in her first book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: parents need to “alter their relationship to time, to see it not as a scarce resource but as God’s bounty, a gift to be received in gratitude.” Then, Mogel simply adjusts her philosophy to account for the adolescent’s biological clock.
“Teenagers love to stay up late. They enjoy the freedom, independence, and privacy of being awake when everyone else is asleep. In the quiet and dark they may use less electricity in a literal sense, but there is a special crackle of mental energy.” Much like an overworked parent, The Blessing of a B Minus argues “teens enjoy using nighttime to unwind, to develop their sense of self and identity.”
So Mogel suggests “before you decide that your teen’s habit of staying up late is a problem, make sure you’re not projecting panic about your own sleep debt onto your teen.” More than likely, your teen will use the weekend to recover from the “jetlag effect” caused by these late nights. Mogel insists they are not being lazy when they sleep until noon on Saturday, they are simply compensating for having stayed up late. The Blessing of a B Minus maintains it’s important for parents to remember that “teens don’t fear sleep loss the way adults do.”
Still, it is possible for sleep loss to cause illness and irritability so Mogel recommends you make sure your teenager knows the basics of sleep hygiene: no caffeine after four p.m., don’t use the bed to study or watch TV, and prevent distractions from keeping you awake. “Technology, the very thing that allows him to unwind, is also a deterrent to reasonable amounts of sleep. Allow your teen time every night to enjoy technology, but set a cutoff point. I often required my daughters to place their laptops and cell phones outside their bedrooms after ten-thirty at night.”
Mogel explains “raising teenagers is an endurance race, not a sprint.” Don’t be afraid to let your teen be your inspiration. “Teens can remind us of what we have lost through fearlessness, exhaustion, withdrawal, and tentativeness…They will not extend an invitation for you to join in whatever captivates them, and often you wouldn’t want to anyway. But if you respectfully observe their expertise in wholehearted indulgence, you may find yourself with a fresh supply of energy.” Maybe, it’ll only be for a few days while your spouse if away, but if you’re at all like me, that’ll be all the time revisiting your adolescence you need.