Sluggish underachievers: Why do so many parents let their children stay up far too late?

Anyone who puts a TV screen in a young child’s bedroom, or who allows them to go to bed clutching a flickering game is seriously misguided

Children need more sleep than adults. A generation ago it didn’t need spelling out. But now hardly a week goes by without another study demonstrating that today’s children are sleep-deprived. They sleep, we’re told, at least an hour less per night than they did 30 years ago. And that makes a big difference.

Ask any British teacher about the yawning in classrooms or even, in extremes, children falling asleep over their work. No surprises then than too little sleep has been shown to inhibit academic progress.  And now this week there’s a report from the Centre for Obesity Research and Education in Philadelphia which finds that the less they sleep the more likely children are to be overweight.

So why on earth don’t parents simply put their offspring to bed early in the evening so that they can get the 12 hours or so which the youngest children benefit from and that means bed at around 7.00pm for children who are, say, under eight? It doesn’t mean sitting up watching TV, mooching about the house, whining with tiredness until it’s time to put the cat out.

It isn’t difficult if you start as you mean to carry on and stick to your guns. I did it with both of mine – a bath and a story and then tucked up in bed at the same time every night. Not only is this very good for children, but it also gives the adults in the household some breathing space and the chance to hold an uninterrupted, grown up conversation – the sort which nurtures a relationship.

I sometimes wonder, in fact, whether the modern habit of keeping weary, fractious children up far too late – because establishing and maintaining a routine is too much trouble or smacks too much of dictatorship - could be a factor in the high level of relationship breakdown we now take for granted.

Yes, I know there are distractions today which used not to be there. But anyone who puts a TV screen in a young child’s bedroom, or who allows him or her to go to bed clutching some sort of flickering, game-bearing screen really is seriously misguided. There is enough evidence to sink a battleship that screens immediately before bedtime disturb sleep (in adults as well as children). Ban screens from the bedroom from birth – then there is no argument to have.  

Do we want our children to get a good night’s sleep and to be alert, bright, healthy and slim or would we prefer surly, sluggish, yawning underachievers? I think we have a choice.

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