Help for Tired Teenagers: Tips for Parents

Adolescents are notorious for staying up late and being hard to awaken in the morning. If your teenage son or daughter is no exception, it's not necessarily because he or she is pushing the limits or fighting the rules. This behavior pattern actually has a physical cause and can be modified to improve your adolescent's sleep schedule.

Most adolescents need about 9 hours of sleep a night to maintain optimal daytime alertness. But few adolescents actually get that much sleep regularly thanks to factors like early-morning classes, extracurricular activities, homework, part-time jobs, social demands, and use of computers and other electronic gadgets. More than 90% of adolescents in a recent study published in the Journal of School Health reported sleeping less than the recommended nine hours a night. In the same study, 10% of adolescents reported sleeping less than six hours a night.

Sleep-deprived teenagers are more likely than their well-rested peers to report the following risky health behaviors:
  • Drank alcohol
  • Drank full-sugar soda at least once per day
  • Had been in at least one physical fight
  • Had feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Participated in 60 minutes of physical activity fewer than twice in the preceding week
  • Seriously considered attempting suicide
  • Smoked cigarettes
  • Spent 3 or more hours each day on the computer
  • Used marijuana
  • Was sexually active

Although this might seem like no big deal, sleep deprivation can have serious consequences. Tired adolescents can find it difficult to concentrate and learn, or even stay awake in class. Too little sleep also might contribute to mood swings and behavioral problems. Another major concern is drowsy driving, which can lead to serious — or even deadly — accidents.

Everyone has an internal clock that influences body temperature, sleep cycles, appetite and hormonal changes. The biological and psychological processes that follow the cycle of this 24-hour internal clock are called circadian rhythms. Before adolescence, these circadian rhythms direct most kids to naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m. But puberty changes an adolescent's internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy — often until 11 p.m. or later. Staying up late to study or socialize can disrupt an adolescent's internal clock even more. The good news is that your adolescent doesn't have to be at the mercy of his or her internal clock.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Tips to help your adolescent develop better sleep habits:

1. Adjust the lighting. As bedtime approaches, dim the lights. Then turn off the lights during sleep. In the morning, expose your adolescent to bright light. These simple cues can help signal when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake up.

2. Curb the caffeine. A jolt of caffeine might help your adolescent stay awake during class, but the effects are fleeting — and too much caffeine can interfere with a good night's sleep.

3. Don’t use meds. Sleeping pills and other medications generally aren't recommended. For many adolescents, lifestyle changes can effectively improve sleep.

4. Keep it calm. Encourage your adolescent to wind down at night with a warm shower, a book or other relaxing activities. Discourage stimulating activities — including vigorous exercise, loud music, video games, television, computer use and text messaging — an hour or two before bedtime.

5. Know when to unplug. Take the TV out of your adolescent's room, or keep it off at night. The same goes for your adolescent's cell phone, computer and other electronic gadgets.

6. Nix long naps. If your adolescent is drowsy during the day, a 30-minute nap after school might be refreshing. Be cautious, though. Too much daytime shut-eye might only make it harder to fall asleep at night.

7. Stick to a schedule. Tough as it may be, encourage your adolescent to go to bed and get up at the same time every day — even on weekends. Prioritize extracurricular activities and curb late-night social time as needed. If your adolescent has a job, limit working hours to no more than 16 to 20 hours a week.

In some cases, excessive daytime sleepiness can be a sign of something more than a problem with your adolescent's internal clock. Other problems can include:
  • Depression. Sleeping too much or too little is a common sign of depression.
  • Insomnia or biological clock disturbance. If your adolescent has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, he or she is likely to struggle with daytime sleepiness.
  • Medication side effects. Many medications — including over-the-counter cold and allergy medications and prescription medications to treat depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder — can disrupt sleep.
  • Narcolepsy. Sudden daytime sleep, usually for only short periods of time, can be a sign of narcolepsy. Narcoleptic episodes can occur at any time — even in the middle of a conversation. Sudden attacks of muscle weakness in response to emotions such as laughter, anger or surprise are possible, too. 
  • Obstructive sleep apnea. When throat muscles fall slack during sleep, they stop air from moving freely through the nose and windpipe. This can interfere with breathing and disrupt sleep. You might notice loud snoring or intermittent pauses in breathing, often followed by snorting and more snoring. 
  • Restless legs syndrome. This condition causes a "creepy" sensation in the legs and an irresistible urge to move the legs, usually shortly after going to bed. The discomfort and movement can interrupt sleep.

If you're concerned about your adolescent's daytime sleepiness or sleep habits, contact his or her doctor. If your adolescent is depressed or has a sleep disorder, proper treatment can be the key to a good night's sleep.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Teens and Texting Issues

Are you concerned about your teenager and all the texting he or she does? For many adolescents, text messaging has become a primary way to communicate with peers. As one mother stated, "It seems that my son is texting people all day and all night long. It's an addiction if there ever was one." A lack of maturity can get your adolescent into big trouble when texting, though. Help him or her to understand and avoid the risks associated with texting by using the following tips:

Cyber-bullying— Cyber-bullying refers to sending harassing texts, emails or instant messages, as well as posting intimidating or threatening content on websites or blogs.  Of course, cyber-bullying can make young people feel unsafe and might lead to school absences or other issues. It has even be a contributing factor to suicide in some cases. Encourage your adolescent to talk to you or another trusted grown-up if he or she receives harassing text messages. You might also suggest rejecting texts from unknown numbers. On the other hand, make sure your adolescent understands that it isn't acceptable to spread rumors or bully someone through texting. Remind him or her that any text message that is sent can be forwarded to anyone else, so it's important to use good judgment with every text.

Enforcing consequences— If your adolescent isn't willing to follow the rules and you've established, or if you're concerned that texting is interfering with his or her schoolwork or other responsibilities — take action! Remove your adolescent's ability to text or send pictures through his or her phone, or simply take the phone away. Remind your adolescent that having a phone is a privilege, not a right. Preventing potentially serious consequences outweighs any anger he or she is likely to exhibit.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Monitoring messages— Sit down with your adolescent and look through his or her text messages occasionally, or let your adolescent know that you'll periodically check the phone for content. You might also review phone records to see when and how often your adolescent is sending and receiving texts.  As your adolescent gets older and engages with a larger group of people, it becomes even more important to monitor the messages.

Sexting— Sexting refers to sending a text message with sexually explicit content (e.g., naked pictures, pictures of people engaging in sexual acts, etc.). Even if sexting seems to be the norm among your adolescent's peer group, explain the emotional consequences of sexting to him or her. Sexting can be uncomfortable for the sender as well as the receiver. The possible long-term impact of sexting matters, too. A picture or message meant for one friend can be forwarded to an entire contact list at any time — and once it's in circulation, there's no way to control it. A photo or message could resurface years later under other circumstances, possibly causing great embarrassment – and even problems with work or school. Although laws may vary from state to state, make sure your adolescent understands that the possession of sexually explicit images of a minor is considered a crime. The consequences could be serious (e.g., a police record, suspension from school, legal action, etc.). You might say something like, “If you wouldn't be comfortable sharing the photo or message with the entire world, don't send it.”

Texting instead of sleeping— Texting after going to bed interferes with a good night's sleep, especially if the messages are stressful or emotional. This can lead to serious issues (e.g., lost sleep, difficulty falling asleep, poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, poor grades, etc.). Work with your son or daughter to establish reasonable hours for texting (e.g., no texting after 10:30 p.m. on school nights). To enforce the rule, you might keep your adolescent's cell phone out of his or her room at night.

Texting while driving— Research suggests that “texting while driving” is more than 20 times as dangerous as driving alone. Even more disturbing, texting is an even greater threat for young drivers than for older drivers, because teenagers are less likely to stop texting when faced with a difficult driving situation. Talk to your son or daughter about the consequences of texting while driving (e.g., getting a traffic ticket, serious or deadly accidents, losing driver’s license, etc.). Talking isn't enough, though. Set clear rules and consequences about texting and driving. Explain that texting while driving isn't allowed under any circumstances, and that driving and cell phone privileges will be revoked if your adolescent texts while driving. Remind your son or daughter that texting while driving is illegal in many states. To help your adolescent resist temptation while driving, you can suggest storing the cell phone out of easy reach in the car (e.g., in the glove compartment, tucked away in a purse or bag, etc.). Also, consider apps or other safety features that disable texting while driving.


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How To Help Your Teen Stop Smoking

Adolescent smoking is a BIG issue, because adolescents who smoke are likely to turn into grown-ups who smoke. If you find your adolescent smoking, take it seriously. Stopping adolescent smoking in its tracks is the best way to promote a lifetime of good health. Adolescent smoking might begin innocently, but it can become a long-term problem. Help your teenage son or daughter avoid taking that first puff, or to stop smoking if he or she has already started the habit.

Follow these parenting tips to help stop - or prevent - adolescent smoking:

1. Adolescent smoking can be a form of rebellion or a way to fit in with a particular group of peers. Some adolescents begin smoking to control their weight. Others smoke to feel cool or independent. Ask your adolescent how she feels about smoking and if any of your adolescent's friends smoke. Applaud your adolescent's good choices, and talk about the consequences of bad choices.

2. Adolescent smoking is more common among adolescents whose moms and dads smoke. If you don't smoke, keep it up. If you do smoke, quit — now. The earlier you stop smoking, the less likely your adolescent is to become a smoker. Ask a health professional about ways to stop smoking. In the meantime, don't smoke in the house, in the car or in front of your adolescent, and don't leave cigarettes where your adolescent might find them. Explain to your adolescent how unhappy you are with your smoking, how difficult it is to quit and that you'll keep trying until you stop smoking for good.

3. Adolescents can become addicted to nicotine surprisingly quickly — sometimes within just a few weeks of experimenting with smoking. While many adolescents who smoke think they can stop anytime, research shows this isn't usually true. When you talk to your adolescent about stopping smoking, ask if any of his friends have tried to stop smoking. Consider why they were — or weren't — successful. Then ask your adolescent which stop-smoking strategies he thinks might be most helpful.

4. Adolescents tend to assume that bad things happen only to other people. Most adolescents think cancer, heart attacks and strokes occur only in the abstract. Use loved ones, friends, neighbors or celebrities who've been ill as real-life examples.

5. Although nicotine replacement products (e.g., nicotine gums, patches, inhalers or nasal sprays) weren't designed for adolescents, they might be helpful in some cases. Ask your adolescent's doctor which options might be best for your adolescent.

6. Although the consequences of smoking (e.g., cancer, heart attack and stroke) are real, they're probably beyond the realm of your adolescent's concern. Rather than lecturing your adolescent on the long-term dangers of smoking, ask your adolescent what she considers the negative aspects of smoking. Once your adolescent has had her say, offer your own list of negatives.

7. Celebrate your adolescent's success. You might offer a favorite meal for a smoke-free day, a new shirt for a smoke-free week, or a party with nonsmoking buddies for a smoke-free month. Rewards and positive reinforcement can help your adolescent maintain the motivation to stop smoking for good.

8. Contact a tobacco-cessation specialist. A tobacco-cessation specialist can give your adolescent the tools and support she needs to stop smoking. Some hospitals and local organizations offer stop-smoking groups just for adolescents. You might look for adolescent groups online, too. Web-based programs can also provide support for your adolescent whenever she needs it.

9. Encourage your adolescent to write down why he wants to stop smoking. The list can help your adolescent stay motivated when temptation arises.

10. Help your adolescent choose a date to stop smoking. Avoid placing the stop date during a stressful time (e.g., during final exams).

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

11. If your adolescent feels pressured to smoke, encourage him to get involved in new activities. Making new friends who don't smoke could make it easier to avoid friends who aren't willing to stop smoking.

12. If your adolescent has already started smoking, avoid threats and ultimatums. Instead, find out why your adolescent is smoking, and discuss ways to help your adolescent quit.

13. If your adolescent slips, remain supportive. Congratulate your adolescent on the progress she has made so far, and encourage your adolescent not to give up. Help your adolescent identify what went wrong and what to do differently next time.

14. Instead of getting angry, be curious and supportive. Ask your adolescent what made her start smoking. Perhaps your adolescent is trying to fit in at school, or maybe your adolescent thinks that smoking will help relieve stress. Sometimes adolescent smoking is an attempt to feel cool or more grown-up. Once you understand why your adolescent is smoking, you'll be better equipped to address smoking as a potential problem — as well as help your adolescent eventually stop smoking.

15. Most adolescents believe occasional smoking won't cause them to become addicted and that, if they become regular smokers, they can stop smoking anytime they want. Adolescents, however, can become addicted with intermittent and relatively low levels of smoking. Remind your adolescent that most adult smokers start as adolescents. Once you're hooked, it's tough to quit.

16. Participate in local and school-sponsored smoking prevention campaigns.

17. Peer pressure to smoke might be inevitable, but your adolescent doesn't need to give in. Help your adolescent practice saying, "No thanks, I don't smoke." Peers who smoke can be convincing, but you can give your adolescent the tools he needs to stay away from people who smoke. Rehearse how to handle tough social situations. It might be as simple as walking away from friends who are puffing away.

18. Prompt your adolescent to calculate the weekly, monthly or yearly cost of smoking. You might compare the cost of smoking with electronic devices, clothes or other items your adolescent considers important.

19. Remind your adolescent that if she can hold out long enough — usually just a few minutes — the nicotine craving will pass. Suggest taking a few deep breaths. Offer sugarless gum, cinnamon sticks, toothpicks or straws to help your adolescent keep her mouth busy.

20. Smokeless tobacco, clove cigarettes and candy-flavored cigarettes are sometimes mistaken as less harmful or addictive than are traditional cigarettes. Adolescents also often think that water pipe smoking is safe. Nothing could be further from the truth. Don't let your adolescent be fooled.

21. Smoking isn't glamorous. Remind your adolescent that smoking is dirty and smelly. Smoking gives you bad breath and wrinkles. Smoking makes your clothes and hair smell, and it turns your teeth yellow. Smoking can leave you with a chronic cough and less energy for sports and other enjoyable activities.

22. Support efforts to make public places smoke-free and increase taxes on tobacco products.

23. Talk with your adolescent about how tobacco companies try to influence ideas about smoking (e.g., through advertisements or product placement in the movies that create the perception that smoking is glamorous and more prevalent than it really is).

24. You might feel as if your adolescent doesn't hear a word you say, but say it anyway. Tell your adolescent that smoking isn't allowed. Your disapproval will have more impact than you think. Adolescents whose moms and dads set the firmest smoking restrictions tend to smoke less than do adolescents whose moms and dads don't set smoking limits. The same goes for adolescents who feel close to their parents.

25. Consider appealing to your adolescent's vanity. Smoking:
  • causes wrinkles
  • gives you bad breath
  • leaves you with a hacking cough
  • makes your clothes and hair smell
  • turns your teeth and fingernails yellow
  • zaps your energy for sports and other activities


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How to Help Your Teenager Avoid Alcohol and Drugs

"Any thoughts on how to get a 17 year old to stop using drugs? He's headed for prison if he doesn't change his ways soon! He's already on probation through juvenile court."

Adolescents who experiment with alcohol and drugs put their health and safety at risk. Parents can help prevent adolescent alcohol/drug abuse by talking to their sons and daughters about the consequences of using harmful substances and the importance of making healthy choices.

Various factors can contribute to adolescent alcohol/drug abuse, from insecurity to a desire for social acceptance. Adolescents often feel indestructible and might not consider the consequences of their actions, leading them to take dangerous risks like abusing alcohol and legal/illegal drugs.

Common risk factors for adolescent alcohol/drug abuse include:
  • academic failure
  • alcohol and drug availability
  • belief that alcohol/drug abuse is OK 
  • early aggressive or impulsive behavior 
  • family history of substance abuse 
  • feelings of social rejection 
  • history of traumatic events (e.g., experiencing a car accident, being a victim of abuse)
  • lack of nurturing by mom or dad
  • low self-esteem
  • mental or behavioral health condition (e.g., depression, anxiety, ADHD) 
  • poor social coping skills
  • relationships with peers who drink alcohol or use drugs

Negative consequences of adolescent alcohol/drug abuse might include:
  • Sexual activity. Adolescents who abuse alcohol and drugs are more likely to have poor judgment, which can result in unplanned and unsafe sex.
  • Serious health problems. Abuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause respiratory distress and seizures. Chronic use of inhalants can harm the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. Ecstasy can cause liver damage and heart failure. High doses of or chronic use of methamphetamine can cause psychotic behavior.
  • Impaired driving. Driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs impairs a driver's motor skills, reaction time and judgment, thus putting the driver, her passengers, and others on the road at risk.
  • Drug dependence. Adolescents who abuse alcohol and drugs are at increased risk of serious dependency later in life. 
  • Concentration problems. Some drugs (e.g., marijuana) affect an adolescent's memory, motivation, and ability to learn.

It may seem difficult to talk to your adolescent about alcohol/drug abuse. Start by choosing a comfortable time and setting when you're unlikely to be interrupted. If you're nervous about discussing the topic, share your feelings with your adolescent. You might also consider sharing the responsibility with another nurturing adult in your adolescent's life.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Here are some tips for talking with your adolescent about alcohol and drugs:
  • Discuss ways to resist peer pressure. Brainstorm with your adolescent about how to turn down offers to drink alcohol or use drugs.
  • Discuss reasons not to abuse alcohol or drugs. Avoid scare tactics. Emphasize how alcohol/drug use can affect things important to your adolescent (e.g., sports, driving, health, appearance, etc.). Explain that even an adolescent can develop an alcohol or drug problem.
  • Consider media messages. Some television programs, movies, websites or songs glamorize or trivialize alcohol/drug use. Talk about what your adolescent has seen or heard. 
  • Be ready to discuss your own alcohol or drug use. Think ahead about how you'll respond if your adolescent asks about your own alcohol or drug use. If you chose not to use alcohol or drugs, explain why. If you did drink alcohol or use drugs, share what the experience taught you.
  • Ask your adolescent's views. Avoid long, boring lectures. Instead, listen to your adolescent's opinions and questions about alcohol/drug use. Observe your adolescent's nonverbal responses to see how he or she feels about the topic. Encourage your adolescent to talk by making statements instead of asking questions. For example, saying, "I'm interested in your opinion" might work better than "What do you think?"

Don't be afraid that talking about alcohol/drug abuse will plant ideas in your adolescent's head. Conversations about alcohol and drugs won't tempt your adolescent to try these chemicals. Instead, talking about it lets your adolescent know your views and understand what you expect of him or her.

In addition to talking to your adolescent, consider other strategies to prevent adolescent alcohol/drug abuse:
  • Set a good example. Don't abuse substances yourself.
  • Provide support. Offer praise and encouragement when your adolescent succeeds, whether at school or at home. A strong bond between you and your adolescent might help prevent him from abusing alcohol and drugs. 
  • Know your adolescent's peers. If your adolescent's friends abuse alcohol or drugs, she might feel pressure to experiment, too. Get to know your adolescent's friends and their moms and dads.
  • Know your adolescent's activities. Pay attention to your adolescent's whereabouts. Find out what adult-supervised activities he is interested in and encourage him to get involved.
  • Keep an eye on prescription drugs. Take an inventory of all prescription and over-the-counter medications in your home and keep them out of easily accessible places (e.g., the medicine cabinet). If your adolescent needs to take prescription medication during school hours, it should be dispensed by the school nurse.
  • Establish rules and consequences. Make it clear that you won't tolerate alcohol or drug abuse. Rules might include leaving a party where alcohol drinking and drug use occurs and not riding in a car with a driver who's been using any substances. Agree on the consequences of breaking the rules ahead of time — and enforce them consistently.

Be aware of possible red flags, such as:
  • An unusual chemical or medicine smell on your adolescent or in her room
  • Drug paraphernalia in your adolescent's room
  • Hostile or uncooperative attitude
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or family activities
  • Medicine containers, despite a lack of illness
  • Secrecy about actions or possessions
  • Stealing money or an unexplained need for money
  • Sudden or extreme change in friends, eating habits, sleeping patterns, physical appearance, coordination or school performance

If you suspect that your adolescent is abusing alcohol or drugs, talk to him. Avoid accusations. Instead, ask your adolescent what's going on in his life and encourage him to be honest. If your adolescent admits to abusing drugs, let him know that you're disappointed. Enforce the consequences you've established and explain to your adolescent ways that he can help regain your lost trust (e.g., being home by curfew, improving grades, etc.). 


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

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