A parent contacted me the other day concerning her recurring winter break problem with her teenager. "I practically never see my teenager from December 16th to the night before school starts! They refuse to come to dinner, never speaks to us and have wasted every vacation since turning 13 with their friends; playing video games (doing who knows what else) and going to sleep when I am getting ready to go to work at seven in the morning! No amount of discussion will get them to change their ways."
Just the facts, Ma'am: Some doctors believe that while most adults melatonin (which helps us fall asleep) starts to be produced at 10 p.m., teenagers tend to begin producing the hormone at around 1 a.m. How much of this time difference is due to changing hormones and how much is due to the disruptive effect from the lights of computer monitors and TVs over-stimulating their minds? While the melatonin issue makes a good case for later start times in high school classes, it does not justify going to bed at seven in the morning.
Crisp or Mushy. A teenage client of mine calls it "the cereal effect." The less he would do during the summer, the more soggy his brain became. The more he engaged in stimulating summer activities, the more "crisp" his brain was when he hit the school season.
10 ways to get a crisp January brain:
1. Three days a week (at around noon), practice some sports; lift weights, do tai chi, or play ball hockey.
2. One day a week, take a creative class: a music class; a comedy class; a writing class; etc. (Plus 15 minutes a day of unmonitored practice.)
3. One day a week, take a personal power class: public speaking; sales technique; etc.
4. For one dinner a week, put the teenager in charge. They should choose the meal and cook it as well. Help is welcomed, but the teen is in charge. Make it the same evening each week.
5. Once a week, have the teenager choose the dinnertime discussion; any world event, idea or philosophy that interests them.
6. Weekends off! Don't impose any time constraints from Friday night to Monday morning.
7. Space is the final frontier. Give them some.
8. Trips -- they're great! But give them one day off for every three days spent as a family.
9. Rethink the pod. Have them choose ways to change the look of their room that reflects the best of their positive interests.
10. Encourage them to practice mindful meditation for 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
You will end up with a teenager walking up around 11:00 a.m., five days a week, which, as most of you know, is pretty good for vacations.
One More Thing:
Giving people the time to discover their own interests and to pursue them for self-growth is an opportunity that few people take the time to do "until they retire." The best inspiration you can be to your teenager is to go after something that is personally rewarding for yourself. The more challenging, the better... and let them see you sweat.
Have a great vacation!