However, the thought of 8 weeks of nagging your teen to get up and out of their room, off their phones/gaming, complete chores, be productive and stay out of trouble sucks the fun out of summer before you’ve even said hello to your favorite shorts and flip flops.
Every summer it’s the same. In fact, it’s getting worse.
“Must be nice to sleep all day without a care in the world while everyone else makes sure things get done around you!”, said almost every parent of a teen.
I know you’re tired. You feel resentful because you’d give your left boob or right nut for that kind of time off and frustrated because your teen has no incentive to get up before the crack of 2pm, get a job or help around the house.
Check your expectations.
Your teen isn’t your employee and won’t likely maintain their school schedule by doing chores around the house from 8am – 3pm. You aren’t coming home to an immaculate home or gourmet dinner.
Expectations have only 2 guaranteed outcomes – you’ll always feel disappointed, and your teen will always feel judged.
Resting isn’t lazy.
Teenagers need a minimum of 8-10 hours sleep each night AND their circadian rhythm changes up to 2 hours! If they used to go to bed at 10pm-11pm, they’re now staying up until at least midnight – 1am and not getting up until 11am the next morning.
All that ‘doing nothing time’ during the day is a part of their brains growing complex neuropathways and overwriting older, simpler ones. They’re getting all new hardware AND software in there and it takes energy you don’t see them expend in other ways.
The problem starts when your teen is staying up all night because their brains release critical hormones between 2am and 5am that are necessary for growth, metabolic regulation, academic performance, better focus, and staving off depression and aggression.
I’ve tried talking to my teen about their sleep and they don’t care.
They likely don’t. Staying up while you’re asleep is freedom similar to you enjoying a quiet house to yourself while the rest of the family is out. It feels relaxing and your teen doesn’t have to be doing chores or ‘getting it right’. They get to have fun and enjoy their space with their friends online.
Teen brains lack self-regulation and are prone to dopamine addictive behaviours like gaming or being on their phones (because those were intended to be addictive which isn’t an inherent weakness in your teen). That’s why they aren’t likely to want or create this sleep boundary on their own.
Set limits to support healthy sleep habits.
Turning off access to Wifi (most internet providers have an app for that) or restricting access to certain apps (try OurPact, Bark Technologies or Life360) by midnight allows your teen to be away from the stimulation of blue light from phone or TV screens to support their nervous system to calm and melatonin levels to rise. Many teens find reading, listening to music or using calming/meditation apps are helpful in winding down.
My oldest had a very hard time falling asleep before 11pm because of his anxiety so we also used stretching and breathing exercises. His favorite app now is HeadSpace.
But I can’t stay up to monitor that!
Teens tell me they have too much energy to fall asleep before 4am. This is partly because they’ve developed a habit of staying up late and their brain is over tired by constantly ignoring the window where melatonin is highest (a natural sleep hormone in the body). The only way the body can compensate is to release adrenaline to stay awake (a downside of playing video games or anything requiring heightened brain activity).
Another factor is food. Staying up all night means their meal schedule gets off and if they eat more than a snack or sugary food close to midnight, their blood sugar rises making it harder to calm down for sleep.
Negotiate and go slowly.
Drawing a hard line with your teen about their sleep habits or internet use will only guarantee your teen gets defensive and wants no part of this. Instead, here’s 7 steps to get the process going without creating another power struggle:
- Be transparent with your teen about any Wi-Fi or app restrictions you’re installing and your intention to support their overall health, not shame or discipline them for a lack of self-regulation. Cutting back on sugar, alcohol or any other indulgence isn’t fun either.
- Negotiate end times by going in 30-minute increments every 3-4 days or over a week. Check in with your teen about how they’re feeling in the process (do they notice they feel better in the daytime and is falling asleep naturally getting easier?) and be compassionate when it feels hard.
- Have healthy, low sugar snacks available and talk to your teen about closing your kitchen by 11pm in order to improve their sleep (moving earlier toward and during school times).
- Keep a basic schedule of daily chores, and dinnertime (along with any activities or work hours) to get your teen moving during waking hours and create a sense of accomplishment.
- Let your teen know that when school starts, working backwards from a wake-up time to get the necessary 8-10 hours sleep is a great way to keep feeling great and support their academic performance.
- Be consistent and flexible. The brain likes consistent sleep schedules, not one that runs well for 5 nights and disappears the other 2. However, gaming sessions with friends are important for connection and collaboration so supporting your teen to enjoy that time once/week let them know you care about their hobbies and socialization.
- Add positive reinforcement each time your teen takes steps toward positive change (NOT perfect!). Kind and encouraging comments go a long way in supporting them to understand why this change is important.
BONUS POINTS: If you’re feeling tired all the time and know that getting to bed earlier would help you too, make this a game you play together, even if you still have different schedules. And if you’re feeling resentful about your teen getting to sleep in and you don’t, it’s time for some serious self-care that only you can create!
Remember, change and buying into new habits doesn’t happen overnight. It takes consistency and patience as you help your teen to feel good in their brain and their body.