Principal's First Principles: Level up, away from screens

The end-of-year break is just around the corner! Students will holiday at home, with family or maybe even somewhere exotic for the next six weeks. When I wander around chatting to them at this time of year, I often hear the following kind of sentiment: “I can't wait to sleep late, stay up late, and 'chillax' with gaming and social media.”

Parents who have the best intentions can allow bad habits to form. They believe their child deserves this holiday (and they do) and that they should spend their time as they wish (within reason, of course!).

Research shows that when children enter their teen years, their bodies release the sleep hormone melatonin later at night than children and adults. This sudden switch to owlish behaviour is cross-cultural and biologically driven! Once it becomes a pattern, it’s very difficult to return to healthy sleeping patterns. A teen’s body clock quickly starts telling them that 4 am is the best and only time to go to bed and sleeping until after midday is good – normal, even.

When parents allow children to go to bed as late as they wish to over holidays, they inadvertently set them up for a poor start to school in the coming year. When school recommences, teens often get headaches and nausea in the mornings. Their lack of sleep leads to high levels of anxiety, which in turn results in increased absences and difficulty concentrating in class. All of this? Because the child’s sleep patterns shifted over the holiday period.

The average teen only sleeps 6.5 to 7.5 hours per night. If this drops even more over holidays when routines are relaxed, chronic sleep deprivation has a dramatic effect once they resume their normal lives.

So how do parents avoid the pitfalls of poor sleeping patterns and excessive screen time over holidays? How should they relax the routine but still help their teens maintain good health? Shaun Fenton, headmaster and chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, who also happens to be the son of 70s glam rocker Alvin Stardust, says that parents should expect more from their teens. He suggests teens fulfil a list of expectations like the following every day:

  1. Get up, washed, and dressed by a reasonable hour in the morning
  2. Make food, eat, and clear away their breakfast
  3. Go for a walk in the sunshine (preferably with a dog!)
  4. Do at least one thing for someone else every day
  5. Exercise! Swim, cycle, walk or jog.
  6. Get away from the screen and play a board game
  7. Stack the dishwasher and help with chores
  8. Read a book!
  9. Get to bed at a reasonable hour and leave the phone and other screens in another room

In an ideal world, Fenton says, every child would do the first seven on this list every day before venturing anywhere near a screen. This is backed by science. With the average teenager spending at least seven hours on a screen per day, they’re significantly less happy than those who mostly engage in face-to-face social interactions.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

As we say farewell for the next month and a half and begin our preparations to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, I wish you all a good life in Christ – a life lived to the full.

I look forward to seeing and serving you again in 2023.

Principal's First Principles is a series of editorials by Brisbane Adventist College Principal Mr Peter Charleson.