Group says teens need later school start times

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Pediatricians say kids aren’t getting enough sleep, and school schedules are to blame.

Alarm clocks are everyone’s enemy, but doctors now say pre-teens and teenagers shouldn’t be waking up as early as they do for school because it isn’t healthy.

Elizabeth McCallister has two kids in elementary school, but when they get to middle school, their classes will start at 7am.

“I think an 8 o’clock start time is much more reasonable than a 7 a.m. start time,” she said.

That’s a change she isn’t looking forward to, and doctors are on her side.

A new policy released by the American Academy of Pediatrics says schools should delay class start times until at least 8:30 a.m. for teen students.

Dr. Judith Owens with the Children’s National Medical Center said, “There is now a solid body of evidence that delaying school start times at both the middle and high school level reverse a lot of the negative consequences.”

The AAP says teens are especially at risk — for them, “chronic sleep loss has increasingly become the norm.”

Numerous studies have found middle, and high school students don’t get the recommended 8½ to 9½ hours on school nights.

Biological changes associated with puberty result in a shift in circadian rhythms, causing adolescents to get tired later at night, sleep experts say.

The changes can start in middle school and can shift a child’s bedtime by as much as two hours.

Studying late at night and using electronics close to bedtime can delay sleep.

But not all parents are sympathizing with the sleepy teenagers.

“Be responsible for your own children. It’s as simple as that,” Dongola Pittman said.

She says parents need to step up and hold kids to a schedule at home, the same way teachers do in the classroom.

“Curfews, all that good stuff. Meal times, study times, you know structure,” she said. “Because that’s the way school is set up.”

But other parents say Shelby County Schools should really take a look at pushing start times, back for both the kids’ and the parents’ sake.

McCallister said, “Moms and dads, too. Instead of having to get up quite so early to get kids rushed out the door when they haven’t had breakfast, or a proper night’s sleep.”

Some parents in Shelby County have already been pushing for later start times, and truancy officers with Shelby County Schools also support a later school start time. They say the later kids are in class, the less time they have to spend on the street committing crimes.

More than 40 percent of the nation’s public high schools start classes before 8 a.m., according to government data cited in the policy.

Use of school buses as well as after school sports practices and games are often referenced as a reason for earlier school times.

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