As parents, we often suffer under the delusion that we have more control over our kids’ lives–and sleep–than we actually do.
Just ask any mother of a sleep-resistant infant who has tried every trick in the book. Can you make that baby sleep? Nope. You can do a lot to help foster sleepiness and good sleep habits, but you can’t actually make that little one close her eyes and sleep.
Similarly, we can’t actually make our teens sleep. And the reality is I would rather have my teens learn responsibility and self-regulation, than control their sleep myself.
So, what CAN a parent do to help teenagers get close to getting enough sleep?
1. Model good sleep hygiene.
We all know that “more is caught than taught” — and this is true of sleep patterns as well.
I live barefoot and in sandals. Every night I use a baby wipe to clean my feet before getting in bed. My toddler pulls out a baby wipe and cleans her little piggies, too. It’s adorable, and I’m sure you remember your toddlers copying everything you did. It may not be as apparent, but our teens are also copying what we do. The rhythms of their lives they have picked up from watching us.
I’ll be honest, I’ve had to work on my own sleep habits and it hasn’t been easy. Making the bedroom a peaceful place, a consistent bedtime and wak-up time, daytime exercise, turning off electronica early in the evening, letting go of stress, and having a regular evening routine… These are the good sleep habits we want our teens to practice and we need to start by modeling them.
How is your sleep hygiene? Do you have a before bed routine, or do you stay up as late as you possibly can and sleep in as late as possible on weekends? Our teens are taking their cues on sleep from us.
2. Regulate light
Melatonin, the hormone linked to the sleep regulation, seems to be controlled by the exposure to natural light. Bright light in the morning helps us wake up, and dim lights at night trigger the production of melatonin to help us get good sleep.
In the morning, we can open blinds and turn on lights throughout the house. We can dim the lights when the sun goes down, and maybe even light candles. Exposure to the blue light from screens seems to suppress melatonin. This is tricky when it comes to teens, who often have to do homework on the computer at night or are still engaged socially with friends.
We want to help our teens take ownership of their own sleep cycles and school responsibilities, and so in our family we don’t “make” them get off their computers at a certain time. However, we model making sure we aren’t using devices about a half hour before bed and encourage them to do the same.
We’ve found some tech helps useful as well. We’ve installed and encouraged our teens to use f.lux software, which automatically changes a computer/phone screen to be less bright and more warm as it gets later.
At an agreed upon time in the evening, our internet is programmed to go off (through Covenant Eyes–affiliate link). We’ve worked to get buy-in from the teens, rather than made a unilateral decision about this.
3. Create a Calm Atmosphere in Our Homes
Make your bedroom a sleep haven, the experts say. Reality in my family? The teens’ rooms are often messy and not the “sleep haven” I would envision. I’m not going to go in and take over. But I do try to make sure they have sheets, blankets and pillows they find comfortable — and you know, everyone is different with that.
While they are responsible for the upkeep of their rooms, without invading their space, I’ll change the sheets, grab dirty clothes, empty the trash from time to time. Not to invade their space, but help them stay on top of it. Again, this is where modeling comes in. My bedroom is not a “sleep haven” either, yet. But we’re working on it.
As parents, we can do more in the public areas of our home. We turn the thermostat cooler at night. What about making an evening routine of dimming the lights, lighting candles, putting on calming music?
Teens and parents need evening routines almost as much as toddlers and preschoolers. But our routines are no longer bath and bedtime story. What might it look like for you and your teens? Making herbal tea? Asking about their day? It’s amazing how hearts often open up when the lights go down.
4. Create a Calm Atmosphere in our Relationships
Stress and the stress hormone cortisol work against us going to sleep. And the resulting lack of sleep leads to increased cortisol production. It’s a perverse cycle that works against our teens getting the sleep they really need.
Many teens feel intense pressure to perform — in sports, in school, and in peer relationships. While we can not take away all the stresses in their lives, we can work to create calm in our relationships with them.
Conveying our unconditional love and acceptance to our children can help alleviate the anxiety to perform, especially in the areas of academics and sports. It’s tricky to communicate confidence in their abilities through high expectations, without implying pressure to perform.
Even though we dearly love our teens, the reality is our relationships will have conflict. That is part of life and close relationships.
Yet we can have control (sometimes!) over the timing of conflict, and to the best of our abilities, we can avoid conflict and adding stress to our teens in the evening.
I try not to have conflict with the kids in the evening.
In the “pick your moment” life hack, Gretchen Rubin recommends waiting for the right time to address something that may be particularly challenging. This is great for parenting teens. They aren’t toddlers who will forget if not corrected right away.
My coaching on the right way to clean the kitchen doesn’t have to happen after dinner. That’s when it bothers me and when I want to deal with it — but it could easily trigger conflict and a cortisol dump, and doesn’t need to be addressed then. I can wait for a time when they are receptive to hearing, we are both feeling positive, and not dump a bunch of stress on them when they are supposed to be winding down for sleep.
5. Understand Your Teen and His Sleep
Experts estimate that teens need 8 – 10 hours of sleep each night. Is your teen getting that? Mine aren’t. Even though I understand my teen’s NEED for sleep, beyond that I need to understand my teen.
Lack of sufficient sleep snowballs in to a whole host of issues. But the big one in our home?
Tired teens and parents are cranky. Irritable. Irrational. It’s true for me when I don’t get enough sleep, and it’s true for my teens.
This is where the power of understanding comes in. . . When we understand these external factors and internal issues, we are empowered to act and not react. Understanding the pressures they are under to stay up and get schoolwork done helps us encourage them. Understanding when they snap at us with an attitude when first waking up, helps us overlook the offense and not take it personally.
Ultimately, the power of understanding helps me “bear with one another in love,” and show that love in patient ways to my teens. And if I can’t give my teens the sleep they need, at the least I can give them understanding and love.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
— Colossians 3:12-14 (ESV)
Sean Paddock was just four years old when he died.
My youngest son is four. As I write this, he’s dressed in his Spiderman costume, showing me how he can climb over the fencing on the porch. He’s jumping from couch to floor. He’s hiding in the Amazon grocery box. His energy never stops.
His energy never stops, but mine does.
A part of me has sympathy for Lynn Paddock, Sean’s adoptive mom who is responsible for his death. Maybe she was exhausted? She was looking for help from a trusted source, and found deadly advice. She wrapped him tightly in blankets to “discipline” him so he couldn’t get out of bed. He couldn’t breathe. He died. “Disciplined” to death.
Let me be clear — Lynn Paddock was not just a tired mother who “made a mistake.” She was found guilty of felony child abuse and first degree murder.
And while they have not been found to have legal responsibity, moral responsibility for Sean’s death (and that of Lydia and Hana) also lies in the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl.
When Sean died, we had been back in the U.S. for just under a year. God had worked on my heart in ways that changed my attitude and actions towards my children. By that time I understood that the Christian conventional wisdom about spanking was more a cultural value than mandated in the Bible.
And then Sean Paddock died.
Sean died of child abuse in a Christian home. Died at the hands of a mother who others described as always wanting to do the “right” thing. Died a young four-year-old boy, acting simply as four-year-old boys act.
Why did his mother, who may have been well-intentioned at least at the start, abuse her child to death?
Part of the legal defense points to her own abuse as a child. Another part of the legal defense and the broader investigation point to the influence of Michael and Debi Pearl and their book, “To Train Up A Child.”
Within many churches and home school circles, copies of this self-published book was handed out to every new parent. Fans of the book would buy it discounted by the case. Well-meaning pastors’ wives would hand it out to new members.
I read it in the early ’90s while babysitting for a lovely family, a family I still admire. Just enough sounded good or Biblical to bypass my defenses. Build relationships, “tie heart-strings,” nurture your children. Just enough Bible references are scattered throughout for Christians to lower their guard and buy in to its harmful teachings.
Michael and Debi Perl promise fewer spankings and instant obedience. These promises can lure in loving parents, who are charmed by the Pearls folksy common-sense stories, and deceived by their shiny website with faces of happy families. Some are not only sucked into their false teachings, but promote them actively to others.
But then Sean Paddock died. Slowly the few voices that had warned about the extremism of the Pearls’ teachings grew. I thought it would shock enough Christians that the Church as a whole would stop promoting these teachings. But not everyone was listening. . .
Sean Paddock died.
Then Lydia Schatz died.
Then Hana Williams died.
Stop a moment. Digest that.
Three children died of abuse at the hands of their Christian, adoptive parents.
Perhaps others have also died, but the connection has not been made to TTUAC by the media.
How many hundreds or thousands more children have been abused at the hands of their well-intentioned, loving and Christian parents? I know many of them.
Did you catch that? Physical abuse can happen, even when you love your child and intend to discipline and not abuse.
God have mercy.
February will always be a hard month for me, a month to remember. Writing about Sean, Lydia, and Hana at the anniversary of their deaths is both a ritual of mourning, and a issuance of warning.
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” – Mark 10:14-16
At this stage in my life, so much of my reading and studying is filtered through the perspective of mothering. This includes my study of the Bible and theology. I find the deeper I dig into God’s Word, the more light it shines on my life–and how I ought to mother.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
“Brothers. . .” This passage is written to Believers. As parents, God has given us special responsibility towards our children. But they are also our “brothers” and in the Covenant.
As parents, God has given us special responsibility towards our children. But they are also our “brothers” and in the Covenant.
My friend Kristen shared, “We went to Ash Wednesday services at the beginning of Lent with Kate at the Episcopal church around the corner (we missed liturgy) and when the priest put ashes on her little forehead, it really made an impact on me. As much as I am her mother, I am also her sister in Christ. This has been really helpful to me in thinking through parenting issues. Most Christians wouldn’t serve wine to a fellow Christian who was a recovering alcoholic. Why do they discipline their children and then set them up to do the same things again?”
In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther clarifies that “caught in sin” is not speaking about doctrinal errors, “but about far lesser sins into which people fall not deliberately, but through weakness.”
As our children are learning right from wrong, they will sin. As they are growing through various stages of development, they will have greater or lesser control over their impulses.
Luther goes on to say, “is caught in imply being tricked by the devil or sinful nature.” Sinful nature, temptation, weakness, developmental stages–remembering these sins of our children are part of their weakness helps me respond to them with compassion.
Luther states, “Paul therefore teaches how those who have fallen should be dealt with–namely those who are strong should raise them up and restore them gently.”
I don’t always feel “strong” or “spiritual.” Often I feel weak and struggling myself. But it is my responsibility to raise my children and be strong for them. We have no trouble with the idea of parents being a “mama bear” protecting her young child. I also want to be strong spiritually to correct them gently, to be the “mama bear” to help my children when they are struggling with sin.
It’s interesting to note that this passage is immediately proceeded by the admonitions to walk in the Spirit and the list of the fruit of the Spirit– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These should be on my mind as I restore my children gently.
Luther reinforces the idea of this passage reminding us of “the fatherly and motherly affection that Paul requires of those who have charge over souls.”
What does “restoring gently” look like?
Luther explains, “when they see that those persons are sorrowful for their offenses, they should begin to raise them up again, to comfort them, and to mitigate their faults as much as they can—yet through mercy only, which they must set against sin, lest those who have fallen are swallowed up with depression.” And “. . .gently, and not in the zeal of severe justice.”
To be honest, at times I’ve had Christian mothers advocate some child-training approaches that seemed to have more of the “zeal of severe justice” than how Luther describes the Holy Spirit’s correction, “mild and pitiful in forbearing.”
we are told to “carry each other’s burdens.” I see this, in light of mothering, as an especial entreaty to know our particular children and their particular weaknesses.
After restoring gently, we are told to “carry each other’s burdens.” I see this, in light of mothering, as an especial entreaty to know our particular children and their particular weaknesses.
One of my preschool sons was insecure around lots of guests–and he responded in the past by getting very loud, climbing on furniture, and even hitting a guest. I’ve found that to carry his burden means I prepare him beforehand for our guests, and I hold his hand when they arrive, until he is comfortable and calm. Another son was prone to lash out at his brothers when he was angry. Bearing his burden has meant praying with him and for him, helping him recognize when he feels anger rising, and giving him strategies to deal with that anger without hitting. And it has meant letting him know it’s good to come to me and say, “Mommy, I’m angry” so I can help him not sin in his anger.
Also in this encouragement to carry one another’s burdens, it strikes me how wrong it is to follow the child-training technique of placing a child in a situation of temptation–to test him and see whether he can withstand it (or be punished.) This method is encouraged by some for training toddlers and preschoolers, and seems to be very contrary to bearing the burdens of temptation.
Luther also comments on this passage that sometimes in bearing with one another, things need to just be let go–“These people are the ones who are overtaken by sin and have the burdens that Paul commands us to carry. In this case, let us not be rigorous and merciless, but follow the example of Christ, who bears and forbears these burdens. If he does not punish them, though He might do so with justice, much less ought we to do so.”
“And watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. . .” For parents, I see this as a two-fold warning. First, to be gentle, not be angry—the caution here illustrates how very easy it is to slip into being harsh.
And also I see the warning not to be tempted to pride. When we become concerned about appearing to be “good parents” it is easy to slip into correcting harshly, minutely. This is one of the areas in which I struggled a lot, especially when my children were smaller. And especially when we were guests in churches and people’s homes. I felt pressure (from myself even more than others) for my kids to be perfect and “prove” we were worthy to be missionaries. That pressure tempted me both into pride in my children’s good behaviour, as well being overly picky and correcting unnecessarily.
“Christians (parents!) must have strong shoulders and mighty bones, so they can carry their brother’s weaknesses. . .” — Martin Luther
The end of these verses is “in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
As Martin Luther said, “After Christ had redeemed us, renewed us, and made us his church, he gave us no other law but that of mutual love. To love is not to wish one another well, but to carry one another’s burdens–that is, things that are grievous to us, and that we would not willingly bear. Therefore, Christians (parents!) must have strong shoulders and mighty bones, so they can carry their brother’s weaknesses. . . Love, therefore, is mild, courteous, and patient, not in receiving, but in giving, for it is constrained to wink at many things and to bear them.”
Footnote: Quotations are from the Crossway Commentary series,
It’s funny how some of the lessons the Lord leads us through circle back again for us. I continue to pray that the Lord will show me how to “restore gently” as I’m once again in the toddler/preschool years and as we navigate the new road of our children being adults. Originally posted May 2005 and January 2010.
“Everything’s kind of chaos in here.”
–my four year old son.
Not sure whether he’s referring to the pictures of medieval life in the book on his lap, or the living room.
When the boys were younger, they had plastic toy bows and arrows. I remember playing with the boys, and shooting arrows with them.
I draw back the arrow, the bow bends — and I’m worried that I’m going to break the plastic bow if I pull too hard. The string is taut and tense and for a moment before I release the arrow.
I’m living in that moment now, feeling the pulling tension between the bow and string.
We’re on the verge of great action, energy, loosening, flying, soaring, aiming towards a goal. . . Pulling back and taking aim. Drawing firmly, but not too hard with this plastic toy bow. The bow is stressed.
In this analogy, it only seems proper that the young adults are the arrows getting ready to soar.
But where does that leave me? Am I the bow? The string? The archer? I’m not sure.
Things are taut. There is tension. Everyone in our family feels it. We are all living through this time of stretching and expectation.
I want to be in this together. Connected. Not working at odds with one another, but pulling together. Aimed at the same target. On the same team.
We’re working on that.
Being connected, while preparing to release.
“…and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all dreadfully cracked about the head and desperately in need of mending.”
–Herman Melville, Moby Dick