It is back to school season, with many parents rejoicing and children regretting. While summer may have been carefree for many children and youth, going back to school may be a problem emotionally for some. Here are some issues to keep in mind in the coming months.
First, let’s talk about sleep. As puberty hits, the body changes the sleep cycle. Children’s brains will typically start making them sleepy around 8 pm, while a teenager’s brain resets 10 to 11 pm. However, they still need about 8 to 9 hours of sleep. So teenagers have a harder time waking up in the morning. While I wish the schools would accommodate this need, most school districts haven’t acknowledged this biologic need. If possible, schedule classes that require more brain power later in the day.
Make sure the kids have good sleep hygiene: a regular routine of preparing for bed (wash up, brush teeth, pajamas on, get in bed) at the same time each night. This routine lets the brain know it’s time for sleep. Electronics just before bed should be avoided. I know this is extremely difficult Most smartphones, tablets, computers and even many e-readers are stimulating to the brain, which makes it hard to “shut down” and get ready for sleep. Part of good sleep practices includes turning these devices off a half hour before bedtime.
School is often stressful — social pressures, bullying, academic load, etc. Teach them coping skills now. The first step is to slow down and take your time. Rushing only leads to mistakes. Talking to others is important as well. Share issues with friends, family, teachers or counselors. Take care of yourself with adequate sleep and nutrition. Exercise is an excellent stress reducer. Taking slow, deep breaths helps to slow the heart rate and clear the mind.
Also, keep an eye out for depression, anxiety and substance use. Changes in behavior, including changes to energy level, sleep, dress and hygiene, activities and friends, could indicate mood or anxiety problems. If there is any concern, talk to the young person. Ask specifically if they have thoughts to hurt themselves or others, if they are using drugs or drinking. If they are, get help immediately. In Wayne County, call (800)241- 4949.
Dr. Carmen McIntyre is chief medical officer at Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority. If you have a question for her, please submit it to AskTheDr@dwmha.com