What Would Later School Start Times Do For Your Kids?

I refuse to believe I’m the only parent who fights the get-out-of-bed-now battle every school morning. I long for the days when my kids were little and got up all on their own with time to get dressed, eat a leisurely breakfast, pack a lunch, and still have time to play. Man, those were the days.

Once they reach a certain age, kids prefer a later bedtime and lose interest in those early morning hours. Because this is their natural sleep pattern, you would think school start times would support it. But, alas, most places we’ve lived have been the exact opposite—middle and high school start before 8:00 a.m. and our elementary schoolers, natural early risers, don’t start until 8:40 a.m.

Since no one’s asking my opinion, I was thrilled to learn that a new study by the RAND Corporation backs me up.

This study focused on a topic near and dear to many people’s hearts—money. Researchers found that a school start time of 8:30 a.m. would contribute $83 billion (yes, with a “b”) to the U.S. economy in 10 years. Still need quicker gratification? It would only take two years to see an $8.6 billion bump in the economy. These economic gains come into play through changes like higher performance from the students and fewer car crashes with weary young drivers.

Even more important than economic gains is how this change would affect the overall well-being of our kids. Teenagers should get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night. Do the ones you know and love get anywhere near that much sleep on school nights?

In an effort to get closer to that goal, we require our boys to hand over their electronic devices by a certain time each night. The devices make it easy for them to lose track of time while online, and the blue light they emit makes it harder to nod off.

A lack of sleep isn’t good for anyone, but especially the adolescents in our lives who we send off to learn brand new concepts and ideas each morning—expecting them to not only retain the information, but also to excel. Sleep deprivation makes this much harder to accomplish. Not to mention the increase in depression, anxiety, and obesity rates it causes. It’s a pretty rotten combination for youths in our homes and the world at large, don’t you think?

Taking another look at the economic side of this issue, it’s important to note that the study doesn’t even include the expenses associated with the mental and physical issues arising from sleep deprivation. Since we’ve discussed this in the past, we all know it can equate to a decent chunk of change. Dealing with illness of any kind carries a hefty price tag.

The other piece of the money story here is the parents’ jobs, of course. It would be silly to ignore the fact that many of the moms and dads out there need to have their kids out the door by a certain time each morning to make it to work on time—myself included.

I say keep the young kids who need adult supervision at the early start time. The older kids, who already want to sleep in and can be responsible enough to get to school themselves, could shift to the later start time. Not only will they get more sleep, they’ll learn the valuable life skills of taking responsibility for themselves and time management—assuming they’re on the bus route, within walking/biking distance, or old enough to drive themselves.

Economic benefits and healthier, more resilient teenagers? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

I, for one, will be supporting later school start times. What about you?

Image from iStock/yacobchuk

Paula Widish

Paula Widish, author of Trophia: Simple Steps to Everyday Self-Health, is a freelance writer and self-healther. She loves nothing more than sharing tidbits of information she discovers with others. (Actually, she loves her family more than that—and probably bacon too.) Paula has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Public Relations and is a Certified Professional Life Coach through International Coach Academy.

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