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Is your teen asleep at the wheel?

Are the following questions true, or are they false?

  1. Your teen needs around 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night.
  2. Your teens' electronic devices emit blue light that can disrupt sleeping patterns.
  3. Your teens' school and household responsibilities can negatively impact their sleep.
  4. Your teens should not get up early seven days a week. 

If you answered true, congratulations: You scored an A+. You are a savvy parent who understands some of the challenges faced by American teens when it comes to being properly rested. The reality is that many teens are chronically sleep deprived. This ties into another statement that is sadly true:

Car accidents cause more teen fatalities than any other reason

Teen victims of car crash fatalities are too common. Think of sleep as a savings account. Teens must "spend sleep" to attend school, study and do homework during the week. They also perform household tasks or go to work on weekends. Teens spend sleep on extracurricular activities such as football, cheerleading practice, science club and music lessons. Staying up late, teens spend sleep on phones, tablets or computers. The light from these devices interferes with normal sleep patterns. By now, they have overdrawn on their sleep accounts.

When your teenage son wakes up feeling tired the next morning, he has not slept long enough to replenish his sleep savings account. Would you serve your teen an alcoholic drink for breakfast and give him the keys to the family car so he can drive to school? When you allow a sleep-deprived teen to get behind the wheel, his judgment and reflexes are similar to those of an inebriated driver. As a result, your teen is more likely to have a severe or fatal accident.

Talk to your teen about sleep-deprivation and driving

As a parent, you can warn your teens to be careful. The problem is that many teenagers fail to appreciate the risks they take. To an extent, they feel invincible. Remember, young brains are still maturing. Teens do not understand that staying up an extra half hour each night could result in a catastrophic accident. Warning them is not enough.

Make sure your driving habits show your teen that safety matters. You cannot cheat by sliding through stop signs or racing through an intersection on a yellow light. Habits like speeding, tailgating or failing to signal are signs to your teen that the rules don't really matter. They will mirror those behaviors, even if you've explained why they shouldn't.

The same is true for fatigued driving. Yes, you should sit down with your teens to discuss strategies to get enough sleep or deal with sleep deprivation, but you must do more. Make sure they know they can call you to drive them home, no questions asked. Figure out a better sleep schedule with your son or daughter and do what you have to make room for better sleeping habits. Set a time for them to shut down all electronics, and shut yours down at the same time if humanly possible. If necessary, convince them to drop one or two activities to carve out more time for them to get the rest they need. Above all, remind your teen never to drive while sleepy or even ride as a passenger with a drowsy driver at the wheel.

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