“How many hours of sleep do teenagers need?” “How can I get my teenager to go to bed earlier?” These are just two of the searches I kept asking Google. Even though the answers were always the same, I kept asking them hoping for a different result. I was hoping Google would solve my problem of having a teenager who likes to stay up into the wee hours of the night. I’ve always loved my 8 hours of sleep and I couldn’t wrap my mind around why someone wouldn’t want the same thing.
In case you’re wondering, the recommended sleep time for teenagers is between 8-10 hours and the most common suggested strategies are banning electronics from the bedroom, charging phones outside of bedroom, cutting caffeine, discouraging naps, to name a few. Armed with this information, I was determined to get my son to change his sleeping habits. I tried to discourage him from taking naps, reasoned with him about the importance of sleep and even tried using science to drive my point home. As you can imagine, this didn’t change anything and I vacillated between “I need to get him to change” and “forget it, he can do whatever he wants because that’s what he’s going to do anyway”. Perhaps a very typical response, but neither is a very helpful strategy.
Then, one morning things came to a head when my son asked to stay home from school because he was exhausted from lack of sleep. I looked at him indignantly and asked if he was asking to stay home because he didn’t get enough sleep, as if I didn’t hear him correctly the first time. I kept staring at him as he went on to say that he’s so exhausted that he would fall asleep behind the wheel if he tried to drive to school. I just kept staring at him, my mind swirling. “How ridiculous for him to even ask to stay home when he should know better than to stay up late into the night on a school night”. As soon as that thought popped into my head, another voice came along. “I don’t have a clue if I should let him stay home. Seriously, why is parenting so hard? I need someone to tell me if letting him stayhome is the right thing to do.” And then the practical voice came along. “I can’t let him drive if he’s clearly telling me he’s so exhausted that he’s going to fall asleep behind the wheel.” All of this is going on in my head while he’s waiting for my answer. Finally I said “you can stay home this time, but you need to start going to bed earlier.” Anger flashed in my son’s eyes and he responded “I know!”
During my Purejoy coach training, I discovered that my desire to control my sons behavior had more to do with my discomfort than his actual behavior. However, in the heat of the moment, I relied on my old parenting habits for a solution.
So, as soon as I heard myself telling my son that he needs to start going to bed earlier, Purejoy kicked in and I realized that I was trying to control his behavior, so I could feel better about myself as a parent. You see, him staying up late made me very uncomfortable and I thought he should be more like me and value sleep as much as I do, and if that didn’t happen, it meant I wasn’t doing this parenting thing “right”.
Throughout the day I found that I was judging myself for allowing him to stay home. I created a story that making him go to school tired would have been the natural consequence of his actions even if he fell asleep in class. But even this didn’t sit right with me and I took myself to the SacredSeat. I sat with the discomfort of the day and the stories I was telling about myself and my son. Underneath it all, I felt powerless and helpless. I was trying to avoid those intense feelings, but once I was able to acknowledge them in my SacredSeat and offer kindness to myself, I was ready to act like an adult.
Later on I approached my son and inquired about his experience of being a night owl when society in general has very different operating hours. I asked what he notices when he doesn’t get enough sleep. Whatever his response was, I kept inquiring what he notices next. At some point I asked him if he thinks he’s going to keep doing what he’s doing or if he thinks he wants to change something. By connecting with him from the place of openness and curiosity, I discovered that what he needed was support with the practical skill of finding strategies that work for him so he can change his habits, not any lectures about the importance of sleep.
By taking responsibility for my own emotional experience without believing all the stories I created about the situation, I was able to separate the practical solution for an emotional issue and meet my son where he was at and it opened a beautiful door to connection and collaboration. Purejoy!
Martta Desanges is a Purejoy Parent Coach whose superpower is connecting with her clients quickly on a deep level to give much needed support on an immediate problem. She is also a mama to four amazing humans who have taught her more about herself that she ever wanted to know. Martta is also an outdoor enthusiast who loves to read and travel and who swears she will never give up coffee or chocolate.