Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What do teachers want most from parents?



What do teachers want most from parents?

By Daniel Willingham


To mark the new school year, I asked a dozen teachers this question: "If you could magically make parents do ONE thing this coming school year to support their child, what would it be?"

The most frequent answer (by far) was "make sure that kids come to school having had a good night of sleep."

I was a bit surprised that there was such agreement. Then I checked the research literature on the consequences of sleep deprivation and got a sense of what teachers see when a child hasn't had enough sleep.

In adolescents, poor sleep quality is associated with depression, anxiety, inattention, conduct problems, drug and alcohol abuse and impaired cognitive function.

Now those findings are correlational, meaning that it's perfectly plausible that poor sleep is the result of these other problems, rather than the cause.

To get at cause and effect, you would have to conduct an experiment in which you deprive people of sleep and observe the results. Those studies are rarely conducted in adolescents for ethical reasons. (There are special protections for research on children, and other groups considered "vulnerable." )

But other data from adults support the conclusion that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep impacts cognitive function. It's harder to pay attention, and memory is affected.

These effects are especially observed during low-stimulation activities. In other words, a sleepy child might rally and stay engaged during a chemistry laboratory when he has something he must do moment to moment, but his attention may easily drift during a whole-class discussion.

It's also likely that poor sleep affects emotional regulation. Kids who are sleep-deprived may more easily act silly in mildly humorous situations, or cry in mildly frustrating situations.

How widespread is sleep deprivation among kids? Estimates are that as many as 25% of adolescents don't get enough sleep.

Researchers have verified the pattern that most parents have observed: sleep patterns change at puberty, and kids can't seem to get out of bed in the morning. But they still stay up late at night.

Researchers also note that the problem seems to have gotten worse in the last ten years or so, simply because there is more for kids to do at night than their used to be, notably, chatting with friends on the Internet.

So there it is, parents. Teachers have given you your marching orders for how to support your child in school this year. Sleep is not optional

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