Tag Archives: sleep

How to help your teen get through end of semester exams

Teen studyingThe last week before holidays is exam period for many kids in high school, middle school, CEGEP and junior college. And since your teen is probably already worn out by all the end of semester assignments, holidays concerts, parties and family commitments, there’s a good chance they are heading into their exam rooms a bit frazzled and stressed out.

All the residual stress and anxiety can put them at an academic disadvantage when the exam booklets are handed out, potentially lowering their test scores. It also means your teens may be more likely to get into arguments with family members, experience random emotional blowouts or isolate themselves in their rooms, earphones on, doors shut.

But sometimes, when all their physical cues shout “Stay away!” they are actually calling out for thoughtful and considerate input. Here are some things you can do to help them (and everyone else) survive the exam week crunch.

Get tough on sleep. Now, more than ever, they need to unplug their devices (computers, iPads, phones) and get them out of their rooms at bedtime. All-night study sessions are almost always a waste of time and energy. This is not the time for group sleepover study sessions with friends or late nights cramming at the library. Help them establish a sleep routine that guarantees they show up for their exams well-rested.

Limit other commitments. Try to control the amount of non-studying related events around this time of year. The office holiday party that includes families, the neighbourhood carolling, Great Aunt Selma’s tree-trimming, Bubby’s annual latka fry-up — whatever the things that get your family out the door in mid-December– can all add up to a lot of time away from the books. And while your teen will benefit from breaks and a change of scenery, all of this forced socializing can be painful to your average 14 or 16-year-old. In terms of relaxing and recharging, they’d be better off taking the dog for a run, reading a novel or practicing guitar. Try and find a reasonable balance for them.

Feed their bodies, feed their brains. On the mornings before exams, I always get up 10 minutes early to cook my daughters a hot breakfast. They have almost no appetite at 7 a.m. (and who can blame them?), but I know from personal experience what it’s like to write a two-hour exam with nothing in your system. So I make eggs and hash browns, oatmeal pancakes or fruit and yogurt smoothies so that they have a bit of protein and carbs before they head out the door.

I try to extend this philosophy to their study sessions as well. My work requires me to do a lot of writing and research, and I know all too well how snacking can function as a procrastination tool or distraction. Instead of fattening and salty processed convenience foods, I try to have a ready supply of cut up fruit and veggies, cheese sticks, popcorn or homemade mini muffins around.

Offer the kind of support they need. This will almost certainly not sound like a lecture on study skills. It will not be a series of frustrated comments about their messy rooms, disorganized backpacks or crumpled, incomplete course notes. You’re kind of too late for this now, and it’s not going to help matters or lessen anxiety levels. Pick your battles.

This is the time to hang out quietly. A quick jam session on Guitar Hero. A cuddle before bedtime. Twenty minutes hanging out together in front of the TV. A quick run out together to get hot chocolate. Listen when they talk. If they ask for help getting organized, then step in. If they don’t, well, they will quickly learn on their own what they need. During exam period, you will be a far more helpful and calming force if you can help keep their stress down and offer a sympathetic ear.

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Kids and the Internet: What the teachers taught me

AppleThis morning I did two back-to-back workshop sessions at the Bronfman Jewish Education Centre‘s one-day pedagogical event for teachers at all the Jewish day schools in Montreal. I spoke about applied classroom strategies based on the Digital Citizenship Program in one session, and about teens, technology and risk prevention in the other.

Not too surprisingly, I learned at least as much from the teachers as I was able to share with them. These women and men are on the front lines in the classroom with our kids every day. And there are some things they want parents to know when it comes to students and technology.

Sleep. Kids need more of it. There is only so much teaching they can do when our kids are exhausted. The first period or two of the day are a real challenge for sleep-deprived teens, and parents aren’t always aware of how bad things can get.

Some advice? Make your teen charge their cellphones, laptops and iPads somewhere other than their bedroom. The place they sleep should be a screen-free zone after a certain time. Too many kids put their phones on vibrate so their parents don’t know they are up getting Facebook status updates and text messages way after they should be asleep. Also, suggest that your tweens and teens wind the last 30-60 min of their days down without the Internet. It can be very hard to keep track of time when you are engrossed in Skyping or slaying villains on World of Warcraft.

Screen time. Kids need less of it. Teachers worry that our kids experience so much of life — from socializing with friends to learning about science — in a mediated fashion. They are concerned about the ways it affects their social interaction, about how computers give even good kids just enough physical distance from others to enable mean, petty and hurtful comments they might not otherwise make. They worry that kids aren’t “in the moment” enough, when they want to record every get-together on their smartphones to post on Facebook. They wonder if all this gadget-fuelled stimulation doesn’t rob kids of the boredom that stimulates creativity.

Guidance from parents. Teachers can’t teach our kids how to be good digital citizens on their own. Parents need to model good behaviors themselves (put down that Blackberry at the dinner table!) and supervise their kids activities online. So much of what we need to teach our kids in a digital context is just an extension of the common sense and moderation we apply elsewhere. Just in a different font.

 

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Parenting pledges for a great school year

This morning, my 12-year-old twins had their very first morning of high school. My youngest would be starting third grade if it weren’t for the fact that she had a really high fever last night (score an extra day of summer for her, an extra day of childcare for me).

Like many families, we are in serious back-to-school mode. Supplies, uniforms, clothing and new shoes have been purchased. Items have been labelled. Student bus passes are ready to go. Desks have been organized. Backpacks are packed.

It’s a lot of work, and a fair bit of expense. But it’s also very exciting, a time to reflect on transitions and growing up. It’s made me think about the kind of parent I want to be to my kids, especially now that they are entering their teenage years.

So I’ve come up with a list of back-to-school resolutions. My intentions are good, but my will and patience are not perfect, so I fully intend these more as a set of self-imposed guidelines, and not an iron-clad code. I find it useful to have these kind of things to look up to, especially in the darker moments of parenting (and we all know what those are like!).

Know when to say no, and when to say nothing. Sometimes the word “No” has to be enough. I don’t have to justify all of my parenting decisions to my kids, and what passes for explanation is really their attempt to negotiation. If I think those shorts are too short, or they are too young for a school dance, or they’ve been Skyping for too long, that’s all I need to say.

Conversely, sometimes I need to bite my tongue. They don’t need to hear my opinion of everything. They don’t always want to know what it was like when I was 12 (really? That’s a shocker). I don’t need to pass along my issues from adolescence. This is their turn.

Take advantage of natural consequences, when appropriate. I’m a big fan of Barbara Coloroso. When my kids were toddlers, I went to hear her speak, and was particularly impressed by her adamant insistence on kids learning things for themselves. As long as it isn’t immoral, illegal or unhealthy, they’ll learn more from their own mistakes than our rules or lectures.

Let them go outside without their jacket and realize how cold it is.  Let them goof off instead of studying for a test and get a bad mark. Let them forget their lunch and go hungry for one day. It may sound harsh, but none of those things are immoral, illegal or unhealthy. The stakes aren’t particularly high and the consequences are tolerable and contained. If we do everything for our kids, they never learn to do it for themselves. And we are reduced to shrill, nagging parents. Sure, if any of these things become more than one-off problems, we need to step in with guidance and supervision, but most kids, most of the time, will quickly learn their lesson.  (Another amazing parenting book with this philosophy is The Blessing of a B Minus, by Wendy Mogel).

Set firm boundaries for technology use. How much screen time total can you (and they) tolerate. At what point does it eat into their time for exercise, family interrelationships, homework, sleep? A recent study found that one-third of American teens sleep with their cellphones by their bedside or under their pillows, and text well after their bedtimes. Many said they set the phones to vibrate so they will wake them without alerting their parents. Phones, laptops, iPads should all be outside of their bedrooms when they go to sleep. Teens already have enough issues with sleep without this extra distraction.

Get them to eat breakfast. This is one of the hardest pledges to keep. My older girls are simply not hungry in the morning. They feign nausea at the mere sight of food. Chalk it up to their adolescent circadian rhythms or their natural metabolisms, but I struggle to get anything into them at all. Going to school hungry pretty much guarantees a lack of energy and focus for the first couple of hours, so that’s no OK. We’ve tried smoothies, Greek yogurt, cereal.

Out of desperation, I’ve given up on my usual insistence on whole-grains, no high fructose corn syrup or refined sugars. I find myself buying the crappy processed crap that used to make me all self-righteous at the grocery store, like “What kind of parent would serve that to their precious children?”

Me, that’s who.

At this point, even Aunt Jemima frozen pancakes are looking pretty good. If they want pizza or a chicken sandwich, fine. My minimum requirement is a glass of orange juice or chocolate milk and a cereal bar.

So that’s what I’ve come up with for now. I’m sure I will stumble a few times (feel free to call me on it, but remember that thing about people living in glass houses…). I’m sure there will be more pledges necessary. What resolutions do you make in your household?

 

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