MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 17th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 7, Queer Eyes, Full Hearts

Alex Keeps on Going and Going…

The Framework
There are queer eyes, wide eyes, and eyeballs that are too tired to move tonight on Modern Family. But more than anything, tonight’s show is about dogged persistence.

Andy (the manny now calling himself a bro pair) defines this type of persistence when selling Phil on giving him a job.
Andy: I will never, ever …. Uhhh … I’m blanking on the verb …
Phil: Quit?
Andy: I had to ask because I don’t know the meaning of the word.

But it’s Alex who truly epitomizes the term.
Phil (to Alex who’s walking while reading a textbook): Hey, honey.
Alex (not looking up from her book): Oh, hey.
Phil: Still studying for that test?
Alex: I can’t; I have to study.
Phil: What time did you get to bed?
Alex (bumping into a wall as she walks away): Sure thing.

Phil: Claire, I think something’s up with Alex.
Claire (lost in thought): I don’t know. Some kind of chicken.
Phil: Why is no one listening to me? Come here (taking Claire by the arm and leading her to the hallway where Alex continues to stare at the book in her hands and walk into the wall). I don’t think she’s getting enough sleep. Look at her. She’s like a human roomba.
Claire: Alex will be fine. This (pointing to Haley who’s sitting on the couch flipping through magazines) is our real problem.
Phil: She’s 20; she’s finding herself.
Claire: How hard can it be? She hasn’t moved.

Later there’s this.
Phil: Honey, I’m getting worried about Alex. I don’t think she slept again last night. It’s like the third night in a row.
Claire: I thought you were going to set your alarm and check on her.
Phil: Stupid thing never went off.

A flashback shows us why. As Phil’s alarm goes off, Alex (still carrying a textbook – now with a reading light attached) walks into her parents’ bedroom to turn it off.

Claire: I’m sure Alex slept.
Phil: I don’t know. She’s sitting at her desk too tired to move her eyeballs. She’s reading her book like this (mimes moving a book back-and-forth in front of his face).
Claire: Alex is going to be fine. [Haley] is the one I’m worried about.

And at the end of the episode there’s this.
Alex (still holding textbook, looking totally exhausted): Claire, the words on the page are vibrating. And I can’t make them stop. I forgot how to read.
Claire: Alex, oh my God!
Alex (handing Claire the opened book): Read it to me, Mommy.
Claire (closing the book): Baby, you’re exhausted. And you have to go to sleep right now. Come with me (putting her arms around Alex and leading her towards bed).

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Most of us remember being tired as teens. But not as tired as Alex. And not as tired as most of today’s teens.

Some teens, like Alex, get behind on sleep because of heavy homework loads and high stakes exams. But over scheduling of activities, after school jobs as well as screens and phones in their bedrooms are also culprits.

They can’t do it all. Something has to go. And often it’s sleep that gets cut.

Even when teens go to bed at a decent hour, they often have trouble falling asleep. They’re drowsy when they wake in the morning, and they’re exhausted in midafternoon. But they then perk up at night – even if they have not had a nap.

Not long ago, researchers examining young adolescents’ sleep patterns found out why. For centuries it was thought that the longer people are awake, the sleepier they become and the greater the pressure to fall asleep. But these researchers found that after 12 hours of being awake, the teens were less sleepy than they had been earlier in the same day. What’s more, after 14 hours, the teens were even less sleepy. This lead to the discovery of the “biological clock” – a clock that keeps people awake even when they are very tired at certain times of the day and at certain ages.

It turns out, that just before puberty begins (around age 10) kids’ biological clocks shift forward to help them stay alert at night about two hours longer than when they were younger. This resetting of their internal clocks creates a no-sleep zone around 9:00 to 11:00 PM – just when they should be getting sleepy. Unfortunately, our internal clocks have shifted back – making it tough for us to stay awake just when our teens are most alert.

Mitch: I wish I knew where your off-switch was.

Many of us obsessed about our kids’ sleep when they were babies. But as our kids get older, their sleep falls off our list of priorities. Like Claire, we focus on what they’re doing (or not doing) when they’re awake.

But it’s not just that sleep matters. It’s how and how much it matters. Inadequate sleep can have negative effects on just about every aspect of teens’ lives – their stress level, their grades, their health, their sports performance, their ability to get along with friends and family, their growth, their mood, their emotional stability, their concentration and memory, their energy level, their ability to think clearly, their risk of injury, their skin condition, their weight, and their use of drugs and alcohol.

And most teens aren’t getting nearly enough sleep. A recent National Sleep Foundation poll found that 59% of middle schoolers and 87% of high schoolers were getting about 1½ hours less than the recommended 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep on school nights.

Like Mitch, many of us find ourselves wishing for an off-switch. Because when it comes to our teens’ sleep habits, we’re not totally in charge. We can set a bedtime, take the TV out of their room, and confiscate their phone and computer. But we cannot make them sleep.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Rather than giving up on them, we need to monitor how much sleep they’re getting and look for ways to work with them to make sleep more of a priority. Here are some things you can do to try to help.

Provide them with a model. (Click here for more on how our sleep habits affect those of our kids.)

Offer a convincing argument for more sleep. Pick and choose among the list of researched negative effects of inadequate sleep listed above to fit your family’s values and what your teen values. For teens like Alex the research on how sleep affects learning and memory found here may be particularly convincing.

Keep things calm at bedtime. Help create a calm atmosphere in your home around bedtime, and encourage your teen to have a regular routine to help them unwind before sleep. Doing the same calming things every night before sleeping will signal their body that it’s time for sleep and help them fall asleep faster. So encourage taking a warm shower or bath, reading a book, listening to music, or other relaxing activities.

Urge them to plan naps right. If your teen is drowsy in the afternoon, a nap can be revitalizing, but it should be short (less than an hour) and not too close to bedtime – otherwise naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

Help make their room a sanctuary for sleep. Cool, quiet, dark rooms are better for sleeping. Some teens may benefit from eyeshades or blackout curtains.

Adjust the lighting. Bright lights stop the body from producing melatonin – a hormone that responds to light and helps determine whether we feel sleepy or not. So to reduce the risk of sleep disruption, urge your teen to keep the lights dim near bedtime. This includes turning down the brightness of their phones, tablets, and computers. And in the morning, open curtains and blinds to let the bright light in and signal their body to wake-up.

Help them establish a bed and wake time that they can stick with. Teens tend to have irregular sleep patterns across the week – staying up later and getting up later on weekends. Encourage your teen to keep weekday and weekend bedtimes and wake times within a couple hours of each other. And if they need to sleep in to catch-up on missed sleep during the week, they shouldn’t sleep more than two hours later than they normally do on a weekday. Sleeping longer will disrupt their internal body clock – hurting the quality of their sleep, making it even harder for them to wake up on Monday.

Tonight Claire yells at Haley: Get off the couch! Do something with your life! Yet she says nothing as Alex keeps on going and going. It’s tempting to come down hard on Claire. But sometimes highly motivated teens keep up a daily brutal grind because they can. They think they should if they can, and it’s tough to convince them otherwise.

In truth, it can be more difficult to help a go-getter kid decide what is most important and what may need to be cut back than it is to motivate a less ambitious one. Yet when Alex was totally overwhelmed tonight, she came to Claire for help, reminding that even our most self-regulated teens are counting on us to be there to guide them.

Your Parenting Experiences
Different teens value different things. Which of the negative effects of too little sleep would be the most convincing to your teen? Would it be their stress level, their grades, their health, their sports performance, their ability to get along with friends and family, their growth, their mood, their emotional stability, their concentration and memory, their energy level, their ability to think clearly, their risk of injury, their skin condition, their weight, or the risk from drugs and alcohol?

Sources and Resources: “Teens and Sleep” by the National Sleep Foundation; Snooze… Or Lose by Helene Emsellem, MD & Carol Whitely; “Sleep and Teens” by UCLA Sleep Disorder Center; “What You Can Do to Promote Better Teen Sleep’ by Mayo Clinic; “Adolescents and Sleep” by Sarah Spinks

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