Bedtimes can be a real battleground between parents and their teens. Study, sleep and socialising all seem to compete with one another.
I asked my Facebook community what their thoughts were on bedtimes for teenagers. The discussion covered what time parents send their kids to bed on school nights, weekends and holidays. Interested to hear what the outcome was?
Well, the first thing I learned is that every family is different.
Some families run with military precision and have their squad in bed by 8.30, regardless of age. Others take a more relaxed approach and let older teens make their own decisions.
The majority fell somewhere between. Stricter with their younger kids but letting go once their teenagers left school.
The other thing that stood out was that most parents felt that holidays and weekends shouldn’t be a free for all. In my article on teen sleep, I learned we shouldn’t vary bedtimes by more than an hour between “work” days and holidays.
Teen bedtimes in the real world
Tristan is 14 years old and is the middle child in his family. His older sister is in her last year of school, so she tends to study until 9.30 or 10pm and then head to bed by 10.30pm.
Tristan has a younger sister who is in her first year of high school. She seems to have a lot of homework, but her parent insist on her heading to bed at 8pm with lights out at 8.30pm.
Tristan usually does homework until 8.30pm and should be in bed at 9pm, with lights out at 9.30pm. He’s often still sending text messages and Snapchatting with his friends after that time. Much to his parent’s frustration.
They’ve tried taking his phone off him. But he tends to have trouble going to sleep, so in the end they’ve given in and let him keep his phone. So as long as he’s in bed by 9pm, they leave him to put himself to sleep.
What do you think of this scenario?
Getting bedtimes working with teenagers
Today’s teenagers are well informed. More informed that we ever were when we were their age.
The expectations at school are much greater too. I remember doing a lot of work in the last couple of years of high school, but not at the same intensity. How do you find some balance between the pressure of school, the desire for some down time and the internet right at their fingertips? How do we make sure our tweens and teens get enough sleep to remain healthy?
My boys have gone to a school where they go away for five weeks in Year 9 to a property run by the school. During that time they have no access to technology and do no school work.
They run the property and learn a ton of life skills. Their approach is simple. Lights out is 9 hours before they have to get up at 5am and go for a 3km run. This happens every day except Sunday, when they have no run and an extra hour to sleep in. So counting back from 5am, you can work out that their lights out is 9pm. It’s enforced strictly.
But before we work out a reasonable bedtime, let’s look at the recommended amount of sleep people need. According to the National Sleep Foundation in America, new research from 2015 suggested these guidelines:
- Tweens: 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers, aged up to 17 years: 8 to 10 hours
- Young adults, aged up to 25 years: 7 to 9 hours
- And in case you were wondering, adults: 7 to 9 hours
Based on these amounts, bedtimes are easy to work out based on what time you need your teen to be moving the next morning… If you stick to these guidelines.
What does everyone else do?
Based on the collective wisdom of my Facebook community, here’s what other people are doing:
- Tweens, aged 10 to 12: Most of them are in bed by 7.30 or 8pm and get an extra hour on the weekend if they don’t have an early morning
- Teens: 8.30pm at the younger end up to 9.30 or 10pm in the last year of high school, depending on their study demands. They too stay up an hour or two later on the weekend
- School leavers: They self-regulate, but most are in bed sometime between 10pm and 12am
And guess what! Based on the recommendations, most of these kids will get enough sleep to wake at 6 or 7am. The only ones who might be struggling are the school leavers. If they’re heading to bed at midnight, they might need to sleep in the next morning before they get going.
So what are the takeaways?
- Most of us are doing a great job! We’re setting our kids up for success in the sleep stakes. Give yourself a pat on the back!
- Weigh up whether to let your kids run wild in the holidays or if it upsets their body clock too much when school goes back. Remember they recommend sticking within an hour of your usual bedtime when you stay up late.
- Our teens need less sleep than tweens, and school leavers need even less. So we’re setting great boundaries if we’re letting kids stay up later as they get older.
- Every family’s needs are different. Some kids need more sleep than others, and some families are well underway in the morning by 6am. Organise your bedtimes around your family’s schedule.
- If kids are difficult to get going in the morning, they’re not ready for a later bedtime so bring it back 30 minutes or so.
And what about Tristan? Well his parents are setting reasonable bedtimes for all their kids if they are getting up around 6 or 7am in the morning. The issue is Tristan might be staying on his phone after he should be asleep.
I’d see what he’s like in the morning for a week or two. Is he snappy or easily ticked off? Does he lose concentration during the day or seem more forgetful? If he’s functioning well, he might just be on the lower end of the sleep needs spectrum, in which case their current plan should work out fine.
What about your family? What bedtime issues have you had to deal with and what works for you? I’d love you to share your ideas below.
Rachel Doherty is the founder of Tweens2teen. She’s a social worker, teacher and the mother of 3 teenagers. In her spare time she trains youth workers and does a lot of washing and cooking. You can read more of her work on her website – tweens2teen.com.