Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

teenagers

Let them sleep

Jilly Dos Santos is a hero to teenagers everywhere.

Jilly Dos Santos really did try to get to school on time. She set three successive alarms on her phone. Skipped breakfast. Hastily applied makeup while her fuming father drove. But last year she rarely made it into the frantic scrum at the doors of Rock Bridge High School here by the first bell, at 7:50 a.m.

Then she heard that the school board was about to make the day start even earlier, at 7:20 a.m.

“I thought, if that happens, I will die,” recalled Jilly, 17. “I will drop out of school!”

That was when the sleep-deprived teenager turned into a sleep activist. She was determined to convince the board of a truth she knew in the core of her tired, lanky body: Teenagers are developmentally driven to be late to bed, late to rise. Could the board realign the first bell with that biological reality?

The sputtering, nearly 20-year movement to start high schools later has recently gained momentum in communities like this one, as hundreds of schools in dozens of districts across the country have bowed to the accumulating research on the adolescent body clock.

In just the last two years, high schools in Long Beach, Calif.; Stillwater, Okla.; Decatur, Ga.;, and Glens Falls, N.Y., have pushed back their first bells, joining early adopters in Connecticut, North Carolina, Kentucky and Minnesota. The Seattle school board will vote this month on whether to pursue the issue. The superintendent of Montgomery County, Md., supports the shift, and the school board for Fairfax County, Va., is working with consultants to develop options for starts after 8 a.m.

New evidence suggests that later high school starts have widespread benefits. Researchers at the University of Minnesota, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studied eight high schools in three states before and after they moved to later start times in recent years. In results released Wednesday they found that the later a school’s start time, the better off the students were on many measures, including mental health, car crash rates, attendance and, in some schools, grades and standardized test scores.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the research, noted that the study was not a randomized controlled trial, which would have compared schools that had changed times with similar schools that had not. But she said its methods were pragmatic and its findings promising.

“Even schools with limited resources can make this one policy change with what appears to be benefits for their students,” Dr. Miller said.

[…]

At heart, though, experts say, the resistance is driven by skepticism about the primacy of sleep.

“It’s still a badge of honor to get five hours of sleep,” said Dr. Judith Owens, a sleep expert at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington. “It supposedly means you’re working harder, and that’s a good thing. So there has to be a cultural shift around sleep.”

Last January, Jilly decided she would try to make that change happen in the Columbia school district, which sprawls across 300 square miles of flatland, with 18,000 students and 458 bus routes. But before she could make the case for a later bell, she had to show why an earlier one just would not do.

She got the idea in her team-taught Advanced Placement world history class, which explores the role of leadership. Students were urged to find a contemporary topic that ignited their passion. One morning, the teachers mentioned that a school board committee had recommended an earlier start time to solve logistical problems in scheduling bus routes. The issue would be discussed at a school board hearing in five days. If you do not like it, the teachers said, do something.

Jilly did the ugly math: A first bell at 7:20 a.m. meant she would have to wake up at 6 a.m.

She had found her passion.

As it happens, six AM is when I got up to go to high school. My first class wasn’t until 8:40, but I had a 90-minute commute from Staten Island to Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, and my friends and I generally preferred being on the 6:45 AM ferry – it was one of the “new” boats back then, it was less crowded, and it was non-smoking on the lower deck, which is where you wanted to be so you could get to the subways station ahead of the pack. I’d actually arrive about an hour before my first class, unless I had jazz band rehearsal, which started at 8. I was also usually in bed by about ten back then; I didn’t experience true sleep deprivation until I got to college, which is a whole ‘nother story. Anyway, as the parent of a child who is decidedly not a morning person, I will be much happier (as will she) if high school starts later in the day. The evidence is pretty compelling. I hope someone in HISD is paying attention to this.

Where are all the teenage drivers?

There’s a lot less of them than there used to be.

TDL_Sample

Between 2001 and 2010, Texas added only 2,578 drivers age 16 to 21 while the age group grew by more than 238,000 statewide, dropping the percentage with a license from 62.4 percent to 55.9 percent.

Young adults who drive are doing so less often, researchers said, following a decade-long trend of higher gas prices and fewer young adult drivers.

Young people and transportation experts cite a variety of reasons why obtaining a driver’s license, once a rite of passage for any youngster, is becoming less important.

“Their status symbol, and maybe their focal point of choice, is their phone and the device they carry,” said Russell Henk, program director for the Teens in the Driver’s Seat program, a safety campaign created by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “A car, 10 to 20 years ago, was the way to get together. Not anymore.”

The economy, and the need to lower costs by reducing gas consumption, is part of the reason for the drop, which officials say has yielded safety benefits.

“That has been a clear reason why we have seen a decrease in fatal crashes for that age group,” Henk said.

Fatalities for young drivers dropped dramatically between 2007 and 2010, including a 47 percent drop in fatalities for 16- and-17-year-olds, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Preliminary data for 2012, however, shows road fatalities among young people might be on the rise.

Some suggest environmental consciousness is convincing young adults to ditch their gas-guzzling cars when possible, or to bike or walk to get some exercise.

Classes are being taught via webcast, goods can be bought without driving and friends can connect online from their respective homes. Even the workday commute can be erased.

“We live in a world where productivity is valued over placement,” said Taylor Kilroy, a University of Houston Law Center student and head of the school’s Energy and Environmental Law Society. “If an employee can produce the same quality work from home, why not allow them to work instead of being stuck in traffic?”

The trend nationwide goes farther back than 2001, and there’s not a strong consensus on the reasons for it. The economic downturn certainly contributed to the steeper decline of the past few years, but there’s more to it than that. This Grist story from 2010 gets at some of the other reasons.

Consider, for example, the fact that teen employment has been falling for most of the last decade. In 1978 (the beginning of the period that Advertising Age looks at) about 48 percent of driving-age teens in the U.S. held a job. By 2008, that number had fallen to 33 percent, and it now stands at just 26 percent. (Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) And while I couldn’t find reliable stats on the relationship between teen employment and teen driving, it’s easy to believe that falling employment meant that teens had less reason to drive, and also less money to pay for cars and gas.

Likewise, the fall in teen employment coincided with both an increase in college attendance, and a decline in the real earning power of minimum wage work, particularly in the 1980s and the early- to mid-2000s. Rising college attendance may have have contributed to a decline in the need to drive, while falling minimum wage earnings reduced teens’ purchasing power.

And then consider the effect of rising oil prices. The chart below shows the difference 1970 and 2008 — a different period than Advertising Age looked at — but the lesson is pretty clear: By 2008, it was taking an awful lot of time for a young worker to earn enough money to fill the tank.

I was a teenage driver nearer the beginning of the period in question. I got my license in New York when I was 17, but most of the driving I did back then was of the weekend and summertime variety, because I didn’t have my own car and I wouldn’t have driven to school even if I did – I went to high school in Manhattan, so driving would have been really expensive, and there was no place to park. I lived on campus as a college student, and didn’t have a car till midway through my junior year, when I inherited my grandmother’s car after she passed away. So my experience tracks with what that Grist article suggests – I did most of my driving between the ages of 17 and 21 during the summer after I graduated high school, when I had a job that I couldn’t get to via public transportation. Otherwise, I just didn’t need a car that much.

I think the key to understanding this trend is to see if driving among people in their 20s, especially those who came of driving age during the tough economic times of recent years, also declines. If so, then we may be seeing a long-term shift that might have implications for our road capacity needs of the future, among other things. If not, it’s probably no big deal. See The Highwayman and EoW for more on related topics.

Helping teen parents in schools

Interesting article about how HISD high schools helps the moms and moms-to-be among its students. Two points to make:

Most teen moms don’t graduate high school, and national statistics show that far fewer — only 2 percent — go on to earn a college degree before age 30. The problem is particularly profound in Houston — where more girls under 15 give birth than in any other U.S. city, according to a report last week from the research nonprofit Child Trends.

While many pregnant girls used to be shipped off in shame to special schools, districts these days report a full-court press to try to keep expectant students and young moms coming to class.

Like Lee High School, several Houston-area campuses offer free on-site day care, as well as more flexible school hours. Some districts have night classes, for example, while others offer online courses students can take at their own pace.

“The cynic in me might say that because it’s so relatively common nowadays that young people get pregnant that schools are just, out of sheer repetition, better at dealing with it,” said Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Schools must walk a fine line, Albert said, between condoning teen pregnancy and supporting teen parents. “We have to send a message that teen pregnancy is not OK and be able to help young mothers succeed,” he said. “That’s tough.”

I guess I don’t quite get the worry about glamorizing teen pregnancy. I mean, all you really have to do is make sure everyone sees just how much time and effort it takes for these girls to care for their babies while still working towards completing their studies. Seems to me the reality is a stronger message than any a teacher or principal or counselor could give. And not to put too fine a point on it, but I don’t think the girls who are taking care of their business need to be stigmatized or shamed, certainly not by the very schools that are trying to help them graduate. It’s clear they get enough of that from their daily lives – just read the comments on the Chron story (yeah, I know, I should know better, but I couldn’t help myself), where the prevailing opinion seems to be that it would be better to just throw them all out onto the street, for a taste of that. In short, I think there’s more than enough people telling them that they shouldn’t have done what they did.

The other point is what about the fathers of these girls’ children? That’s a complicated issue.

Sylvia Cook, who has overseen Cy-Fair’s program for about a decade, said she thinks even more pregnant girls aren’t coming forward statewide. Some, she said, are scared off because they have to register the baby’s father with the Texas attorney general’s office to get state aid.

I presume that’s because a nontrivial number of those fathers would be in legal jeopardy if their identities were revealed in that fashion. It’s not exactly a secret that a lot of these baby daddies are significantly older than the mommies, which would make them guilty of statutory rape. The reality of that is more complicated than the usual rhetoric would have you believe. If there’s a delicate balancing act that the schools need to do here, it would be in making sure the fathers are taking responsibility as well, at least in the situations where the mother wants them to be responsible.

Our teen drivers are better than yours

Good news is always welcome.

A new report by the Texas Transportation Institute found that the state’s rate of fatal teen crashes is dropping faster here than anywhere. Researchers looked at 37 states that put restrictions on teen drivers’ licenses and found Texas is alone in seeing the number of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes drop for five consecutive years.

“Texas is doing a better job than any of the other states,” said Texas Transportation Institute researcher Bernie Fette, co-author of the 46-page report released Monday. Fette credited not just the license restrictions but also programs in high schools to get kids focused on safe road behavior.

Since 2002, when 625 teen drivers were involved in fatal crashes, Texas’ numbers have come down each year. In 2007, 419 fatal crashes involved teen drivers.

[…]

Teen driving risks have been on the minds of lawmakers in Texas at least since 2002, when new rules for young drivers known as graduated driver’s licenses took effect.

Since then, new Texas teen drivers have had to spend six months with a learner’s permit before getting a license. After that, they must spend another six months with other restrictions, including a prohibition against driving between midnight and 5 a.m.

This year, lawmakers extended those probationary periods to 12 months each, and outlawed the use of cellphones by young drivers.

But Fette said his research suggests that tougher laws are only part of the reason for Texas’ success in making fatal crashes involving teen drivers less frequent.

After all, Texas’ laws have not been as strong as those in many other states. And some states with graduated driver’s license laws actually saw their fatal crash rate go up, Fette said.

In Texas, he said, 300 school districts are implementing a first-in-the-country program called Teens in the Driver Seat, an initiative that gets teens talking to their peers about the risks of driving. Preliminary research says the program, begun in 2003, has worked.

“The [graduated-license] law is a necessary foundation,” Fette said. “But that law can be reinforced or made stronger through a peer influence program like Teens in the Driver Seat. If you have a combination of the two, as Texas does, what you have is a really good one-two punch.”

Here’s what the TTI says on its homepage, and here’s their white paper. Good to see Texas leading the way in something that isn’t a negative.

You kids hang up and drive!

Some action on the cellphones and driving front.

The House tonight tentatively approved a bill restricting teens’ use of cellphones until they’re 18 and overhauling driver’s ed requirements in Texas. The bill would require all new teen drivers to have an additional 20 hours of behind the wheel experience, 10 of them at night, before they could get a driver’s license. And it would lengthen the ban on a new teen driver having more than one passenger under 21 in the car. The ban now last six months, but would be for the first year under the bill, passed on a voice vote.

Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, said he offered the bill after the community of Pottsboro in Grayson County had two teens killed in car crashes in one month. Parents there formed a group, “Less Tears, More Years.” They campaigned for more parental awareness of the risks of today’s teen driving — and more driver ed.

That one wasn’t on my list of bills to watch earlier in the session, but it’s been passed to engrossment (meaning, it was passed on second reading; it still needs final approval in the House) and assuming it doesn’t become a casualty of the calendar, I imagine it will pass the Senate, though I suppose some of the driver’s ed provisions might generate some debate. I don’t see anything particularly onerous in this, so unless someone knows of a hidden danger lurking in there, I think this is worthwhile. And according to Atrios, similar restrictions are being worked on in the Pennsylvania legislature.

You kids hang up and drive!

Some action on the cellphones and driving front.

The House tonight tentatively approved a bill restricting teens’ use of cellphones until they’re 18 and overhauling driver’s ed requirements in Texas. The bill would require all new teen drivers to have an additional 20 hours of behind the wheel experience, 10 of them at night, before they could get a driver’s license. And it would lengthen the ban on a new teen driver having more than one passenger under 21 in the car. The ban now last six months, but would be for the first year under the bill, passed on a voice vote.

Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, said he offered the bill after the community of Pottsboro in Grayson County had two teens killed in car crashes in one month. Parents there formed a group, “Less Tears, More Years.” They campaigned for more parental awareness of the risks of today’s teen driving — and more driver ed.

That one wasn’t on my list of bills to watch earlier in the session, but it’s been passed to engrossment (meaning, it was passed on second reading; it still needs final approval in the House) and assuming it doesn’t become a casualty of the calendar, I imagine it will pass the Senate, though I suppose some of the driver’s ed provisions might generate some debate. I don’t see anything particularly onerous in this, so unless someone knows of a hidden danger lurking in there, I think this is worthwhile. And according to Atrios, similar restrictions are being worked on in the Pennsylvania legislature.