In a nutshell, one of the 1 report’s main points:
“Colleges spend a huge sum each year sending signals that influence the behavior of millions of students,” the report notes. Why not rethink those signals to reshape that behavior?”
Spending 2½ years working solely with thousands of students with sports-related concussions, each needing lifestyle and school-related adjustments to facilitate recovery, provided me with an invaluable education on the academic lifestyle of high-achieving student-athletes. It’s not that I was completely isolated and insulated before that, but spending that much time with so many students in a short period of time allowed me to see what’s really typical across high schools and school districts in a way I’ve never experienced before, even as an involved high-school mom and school volunteer myself.
The Harvard report touched on many of the trends I observed, and that are of great concern to me as both a mom and pediatric psychologist. Among them:
- Our kids are stressed! From the CDC’s biannual Youth Health Risk Behavior2 survey, approximately 30% of surveyed high-schoolers reported significant sadness or hopelessness over the 12-month survey period, with 17% reporting that they had seriously considered suicide in the previous year. That’s concerning, to say the least.
- Our kids are over-extended, largely in their drive to succeed, to be the best, to get into the best colleges – it’s not uncommon for me to meet high-school sophomores, juniors, or seniors taking multiple college-level (AP) classes, in addition to honors classes, team sports, and volunteer commitments. That’s quite an intense load – and if you’re at practice or club meetings until late afternoon, and AP teachers are requiring 1-2 hours homework per class at night, the reality is that students should be staying up very late to complete all of their homework, but sacrificing a good night’s sleep in the process… not to mention time to relax or socialize.
- With these workloads, is it any wonder that they’re sleep-deprived, too? This seems to be SOP – and acceptable, while parents often say “but I can’t make them go to bed.”
The risks of inadequate sleep are not negligible:
- Impaired attention, memory and learning
- Weaker retention of learned information
- Increased moodiness, irritability
- Decreased resistance to infection
- Decreased physical performance in sport, and increased risk of injury
So, what are the solutions? If the Harvard report’s recommendations are truly implemented, that’s a great start – behaviors can change in response to changed demands. In the meantime, though, parents can help by being parents – that is, imposing limits, and guiding our children to make good choices. We can also remember that we’re our children’s role models, and take a hard look at our own behavior with respect to workload, commitments, and life balance. In other words, start by leading by example, and learning new habits together.
1 NYT summary : http://ow.ly/Xvuft
2For complete data summary, see http://ow.ly/XvtUb at CDC