High School Exam Support Tips

By Collett Smart
What is the secret to raising healthy teenagers?

The exam period is a time we can model compassion and empathy.


Exam time can be a stressful period for the whole family. I’m thinking ‘first year of High School’ exams, the bigger ‘final years of school’ exams and the ‘end of each year’ exams in general. Some teens adjust to a study routine quite easily, others find it tricky every single year. Each child is different, even in the same family. Most parents are keen to find some high school exam support tips.

As parents and carers there are lots of small things we can do to practically help our teens during this time.

Here are my Top High School Exam Support Tips:

Try to maintain realistic expectations. By this stage parents know what their children are truly capable of.


Keep it in perspective

I find that some students and even parents place different amounts of emphasis on the exam ‘event’. Try to keep in mind that exams are not the only thing happening in a teenager’s life. They’re still enrolled in sports or other activities, navigating friendships, juggling new jobs. It’s good for them to maintain healthy connections and activities, between study times, even if times are adjusted slightly. It also helps with planning and time management, which are long term life skills.

It is also good to encourage independence, but we sometimes assume that teens know how to study, when in fact no one has ever given them any guidance. Look out for this and then support your teen in getting small habits going from the start of high school.

Teens with ADHD or other learning challenges will often still need adult guidance with study timetabling and routines throughout school.


Practical support ideas

  • Help your teen to choose a study space. Preferably somewhere quiet. Discourage sitting on their bed to study. Their brain needs a good place to rest at night and beds need to be associated with sleep rather than study.

  • Start a good practice in the early years of encouraging set breaks from social media and phones. Although, allow for some times they can still check in with friends online, as friends provide much needed support during stressful periods.

  • Encourage teens to eat some balanced meals. If you are able, have some healthy snacks within reach. Provide a good healthy breakfast on exam mornings so that they have fuel in the tank to help their brain concentrate.

  • Discourage caffeine intake. Some teens try to stay awake by drinking lots of coffee or energy drinks. This often has more negative effects like causing digestive problems and wreaks havoc with sleep patterns.

  • Encourage good sleep hygiene practices. I know we know this as adults (isn’t hindsight wonderful?) , but cramming just creates more stress and less rest time. 9+ hours of sleep in the teen years is vital for the brain to actually process the information learned and lay it down into the long-term memory.

  • Don’t stop all sport or physical activity at this time, as exercise increases oxygen to the brain and also reduces stress. It’s a really healthy downtime activity between study periods.


Emotional support ideas

  • Remember that exam time is often very emotionally charged. Expect that your teen may be more sensitive and emotions may be a little raw, due to stress. Try not to over-react to small issues. Extend some grace (us adults get like this too when we are under pressure).
  • Avoid conflict over minor matters, like when they forget to pick up their socks or leave a bag at the door.
  • Extend kindness and make some concessions around housework or chores during this time. In our house we try to model that we all help each other out during pressurised periods in life.
  • Remind yourself (and then your teen) that most people are not good at everything or every subject. That’s ok. It’s what makes us all unique.
  • Highlight the strengths and successes that your teen has achieved over the last few years. Of course, we can all grow in other areas, but resilient kids work well drawing on their strengths, not over analysing their weaknesses.
  • Bring them warm or cool drinks and even a few of their favourite study snacks.
  • Continue to hug and affirm your teen. 

When you have a Final Year High School Student

I’ve gone through this year twice as a parent. I have one left to go! It is a big year emotionally, for many, no matter how much we try to downplay the pressure.

Young people are not only anxious about their final results, but this is a time when there is a lot of pressure on them to ‘know’ what they want to do in the future. Most still don’t. That’s ok. Some take a year or two to find what they love.

They’re excited to leave school, but they are also nervous – even if they don’t show it. They will still need our support a great deal in the year or so after school (just in different, not smothering, ways).

In my ‘final exam’ episode of the podcast [here], I mention how I often say to my undergrad students, “Just get on a path and keep moving forward. You’ll new meet people and find new exists onto new pathways that interest you along the way, but you can’t discover new options if you’re stationary.”

  • Talk about how proud you are that they have made it to their final year of school.
  • Remind your child that this is only a short period in their lives, so just doing the best that they can do is what is important. This is not to minimise the importance of the discipline of studying for their final exams but recognising it is only ONE pathway to their future.
  • Teacher, Nicole Maxfield-Carr advises, “In the lead up, look at positive job options which do not require a degree or trade. If other interests are catered to there is not so much pressure. Talk about how proud you are that they have made it to this point. Let them know that a perfect grade does not equal a perfect life.
  • For today’s generation there is a very strong possibility that what they study will not be the career they end up in. Ashely Fell from McCrindle Research reminds us that this generation of young people is likely to have 18 different jobs in their adult lifetime.


But what if they bomb out and they really don’t get the results they wanted?

  • Talk about options even before results come out!
  • Focus on their strengths.
  • When results come out, focus on what they have achieved and remind them again that there are many avenues to get to the career they would like.
  • Take time to reassess the situation and other possible options.
  • If they are disappointed, begin seeking advice and visit a career counsellor fairly quickly, so that your child can gain perspective.

Final Thoughts

School is an important place in all our lives, but some teens find it more stressful than others. Our job is to help our children learn responsibility but also to model compassion and kindness when things are tough!




P.S. You do not need to ask for permission to share this article with your school. I just ask that you acknowledge the source. Thank you.


Here is my podcast on this topic?.  I’d love it if you had a listen and shared it to support another parent of a teen.

Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author of, ‘They’ll be Okay: 15 Conversations to help your child through troubled times’. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens. She lives in Sydney, Australia and is married with 3 children. Find out more at www.raisingteenagers.com.au

Talking about vaping, alcohol & other drugs

By Collett Smart
What is the secret to raising healthy teenagers?


On vaping, alcohol and other drugs

Paul Dillon is my go-to expert on all things drug and alcohol related. I don’t usually write or speak about this topic without referring to his work. Despite his topic, Paul is hopeful about young people and provides very practical support.



What do we know about teen alcohol consumption?

In Season 1 Ep 9 of the podcast, I covered alcohol, parties and binge drinking, and refer to information from my previous blog post where I discuss the effects of binge drinking. Yet, research encouragingly, indicates, overall fewer teens are choosing to drink.

There is great debate about the reasons, but one of the reasons we know about is the reduction in parental supply (see reports here and here). For example, parents have become more aware of the detrimental effects of alcohol on the developing brain. (Listen out for Paul’s story in my interview with him on this week’s episode, about the change in parents’ response over the years, to his seminars on alcohol.)


The risks


The concern is for teens who do drink heavily, as they are binge drinking at dangerous levels.  We know that alcohol lowers inhibitions and when paired with an underdeveloped brain, it is more likely for teenagers to make risky decisions.

One factor Paul highlights is that, for some, parents are one of the main suppliers of alcohol to teenage drinkers. This comes from a long-standing myth, that providing a teenager with alcohol will help their child to drink ‘more responsibly’, and that because they are ‘under supervision’ teens will then make better drinking choices when going out. However, the research tells us that this in fact has the opposite effect. Teens who are supplied alcohol at home, tend to go on and drink higher quantities of alcohol when out.

FARE – the Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education’s indicates,

“In Australia, almost 60 per cent of alcohol consumed by 12-to-17 year-olds is supplied by adult friends, relatives or strangers, despite the fact that the provision of alcohol to young people under the age of 18 by someone other than their parent or guardian is in fact illegal in most Australian jurisdictions.”



For many years, we’ve seen a downward trend in smoking. i.e., people are smoking less. The community got behind the issue and saw smoking as something that not only harmed the individual but also harmed other people.

Vaping then, is the topic on every school principal’s mind right now. Paul Dillon tells me that we have not seen this kind of drug related issue come back on school grounds since the early 80s, with kids both vaping and selling vapes at school. He mentions how easy they are to get online, through social media. But not every kid is vaping.

What is vaping?

From Paul’s website:
Vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol (referred to as a vapour), which is produced by an e-cigarette. An aerosol is a mixture of ultrafine liquid particles that can contain a range of chemicals. (Darta – vaping fact sheet)

In this fact sheet for parents, Paul provides definitions, as well as information on what we know and don’t know about vaping currently. Paul does warn, that just because we can’t yet ‘prove’ the long-term negative effects of vaping, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. We thought the same about smoking decades ago.


Is vaping ‘safe’?

From one of his fact sheets again:

There is no evidence to support that vaping is ‘safe’, i.e., they are completely risk-free.

It is important to remember that vaping is a fairly new phenomenon and, as such, we know little about the long-term harms associated with the use of these devices. As with any new product, it is possible that some harms may emerge over time and it is important that vaping is monitored carefully for any possible adverse effects.

We know little about the harms associated with the use of the illicit disposable vapes sold in Australia, as research has been conducted on vaping more generally rather than specific devices. There are, however, a number of issues of concern. Around 90% of all disposable vapes are believed to be manufactured in China, with some factories producing half a million of these devices per day. … very little is known about their contents. As they are mass-produced there is little to no quality control.

Nicotine is addictive and if they are vaping the drug regularly they could become nicotine dependent. As with smoking cigarettes, when they stop vaping the nicotine level in their system drops, resulting in a range of withdrawal symptoms. These can include feeling irritable and restless, having headaches and finding it difficult to concentrate, as well as a strong urge to vape. These symptoms can be extremely difficult for young people to manage, particularly if they are still going to school.

If you believe your child is nicotine dependent, it is important that you discuss the matter with your family GP.



When you discover your child is vaping

Your teen will be aware of vaping. Vapes are lying around every high school bathroom by the end of the school day.

For any parent, finding out your child is vaping can be a shock, no matter how much you prepared yourself. As Paul says,

Vaping is a new phenomenon that most parents know little about and that lack of knowledge can make the situation feel even more overwhelming.”

Regardless, it is vital that you prepare yourself with helpful facts and accurate information, and think through the steps you will take in your response. Practice what you would like to say in conversation – not as a lecture.

As with any tricky conversation – choose the right time and place. I.e. not in the middle of their favourite game or show, or as they walk in the door exhausted from a full day at school.

Many teens do better without direct eye contact, on more serious topics. So, ask your teen if they would mind going for a walk, or a drive, even to throw a ball, or to have a hot chocolate out in the garden, so that you can chat. They will know something is up, but try to make it relaxed.

Don’t forget that being a teen is hard!

What to say

There is no perfect response. Try to breathe, go for a short walk or wait a day if you need to. Be honest about what you heard (on the podcast perhaps), or saw in a school email or found in your child’s belongings. Don’t pass judgement.

Don’t underestimate your connection

Lean in, show that you truly want to understand and connect with them. Paul and I talk about the influence that parents actually do have on their teen’s decisions and choices with alcohol and vaping.


Here I have used Paul’s steps with some added examples:


1. Ask for their perspective on vaping

My favourite saying, is the one in the image above, because this is exactly what I encourage parents to do on most topics they want to chat with a teen about.

‘Ask what their friends are doing.’

Not in a way that your teen feels like you are prying, but in a curious way. Teens need to believe that we will not judge them or their friends if they tell us something.  They also respond better when they feel that the topic is part of a conversation, rather than an interrogation. Try to do everything in your power to check your tone and body language when you speak with your teen about a tricky topic.

Sure, you will have strong opinions about drugs alcohol and vaping, – your teen already knows that. What you are aming for at this point is for your teen to feel comfortable enough to talk with you.

Some questions to try:

“So can you tell me about vaping in your school? I know it’s something I never had to face when I was young. You don’t have to give me any names. I’m just curious about what’s happening in your year group.“


“Honey, I found a vape in your bag. Can you tell me about vaping in your school? I know it’s something I never had to face when I was young.”

Let them speak and don’t interrupt (model good communication skills.) Use nods and a few soft interjections like, “Hmhm”, “I see”, “Oh ok”. You want to know it all, what’s their side of the story?  Have they tried it? Why they vaped or continue to vape?

Paul emphasises that when your teen says, “But you don’t understand”, in this case that’s absolutely true. You don’t. We never had vapes around to this extent, even a few years ago, let alone in high school.

2. Express your views about teen vaping and why you feel that way –

You only do this bit only once they have completely finished talking. It is important that they allow you to speak without interruption also. This is another opportunity for learning communication skills, but be sure that what you say isn’t a looooong lecture. It needs to be well thought-out, researched and planned. Stick to your plan. Don’t respond to comments they have made. Paul emphasises that this is not the time. And then this one….

3. Do not use ‘scare tactics’ –

In Paul’s words, ‘Most importantly, don’t throw horror stories at them that you’ve seen reported in the media. Most of these are based on some degree of truth but they’re not the norm and young people know that – stick to a couple of concerns based on the facts.’

4. Avoid judgment –

If your teen has opened up about their friends vaping, this is because they believe they can trust you with the information. Don’t blow it here. If their friend vaping is one of the reasons they’re doing it, Paul emphasises that we need to be careful not to criticise them here.

5. Clearly state your family expectations on vaping –

You can finish your bit by clearly stating your families view and expectations at this point. We have more influence on our teens than we sometimes think we do. Keep your statement matter of fact.

A helpful script from Paul, “As much as I would love to be able to stop you vaping, I can’t control what you do when I’m not with you. I can control what is done in our home. No vaping devices are permitted in this house.”

6. Give your teen time to respond –

… to any thing you have said, or any of the boundaries you have set around vaping.

7. This is an important bit… offer to learn together and look at each other’s sources.

There are a lot of poor sources floating around the internet. The pro and anti vaping lobby groups are both loud. Ask your teen to show you their refences so you can sit together and look through what they found. Show them your sources and look at who provided funding or how reputable a source is. Also, talk about what makes source reputable.

Paul has another great tip sheet (here) for how to respond to your teen factually, when they use common vaping statements, like “But it’s just flavoured vapour.” etc.


Final Thoughts

Keep connecting with your teen. They need you more than you know and often more than they show. Boundaries are important to a young person feeling safe and loved, but boundaries can only come if the relationship is overflowing with love.


Helpful links

Paul is at the forefront of research into these topics and his website ‘DARTA’ is a treasure trove. He has information for schools, even providing downloadable worksheets and power point slides for teachers to use to begin conversations with teens. He has even more information sheets specifically for parents.

Paul’s fact sheet for parents can be found here

Paul’s fact sheet for teachers can be found here.

Don’t miss future episodes or articles

  • Join my Facebook and Instagram community, so you don’t miss out on updates.
  • You can find this episode of the Raising Teens podcast on Spotify, Apple podcasts or anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts.
  • My books are here.





Below is a direct link to the ‘Vaping, Alcohol & other Drugs’ episode of the Raising Teens podcast, on Spotify?.  I’d love it if you had a listen and shared Paul Dillon’s insights with someone else who loves their teen.

Paul Dillon has been working in the area of drug education for almost 30 years. Through his own business, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) he has been contracted by many organisations to provide updates on current drug trends, as well as advice on alcohol and other drug issues. He continues to work with many school communities across the country to ensure they have access to good quality information and best practice drug education. In 2009 his best-selling book for parents was published titled ‘Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs‘ and has since been released internationally. With a broad knowledge of a range of content areas, Paul is regarded as a key social commentator and has featured on television programs such as Sunrise, TODAY and The Project. Paul writes a blog for parents and caregivers, as well as another for young people, and these have recently been released in a podcast format.

Find out more at https://darta.net.au

Generation Z

By Collett Smart
What is the secret to raising healthy teenagers?

They’re not the Snowflake generation



What’s New on the ‘Raising Teens’ Podcast? 


I’ll start with what’s happening for our teens right now

Adolescence can be a fun and exciting time, but it can also be really hard. No one knows that more than the Generation Z themselves. We also know that the last few years have added increasingly to the normal stressors of the teen years. Like me, most experts on adolescent wellbeing were really concerned about our teens during lockdowns and the resulting social distancing that was required. This concern was warranted, as a national survey of 20,000 young people found the pandemic lead to high psychological distress in 75+ per cent of students.

My own children and their friends were also affected by this (as a mum I had a 12-year-old trying to finish primary, a 17yo daughter doing her final year of high school in lockdown and a young adult son doing uni anatomy pracs on zoom!) We saw rites of passage opportunities ripped away, a halt in opportunities for social skills development, a decrease in community based physical activities, leading to increased loneliness and isolation. It’s therefore no surprise that teen mental ill-health is on most parents’ minds right now.


I wanted to offer some hope and support

I had already started the Raising Teens podcast during the pandemic. It started with 10 minute power topics (there are 3 seasons of 10 episodes each). These hold quick tips and ideas to assist parents on: teen anxiety, school refusal, after school meltdowns, questions about alcohol, mental health days, boys and body image, friendship collapse, the power of touch, teens and sleep, and so many more.

However, I began to think about ways that I could bring hope and support to even more parents of teens. I also know that one person cannot possibly be all things for all parents or all teens. i.e One person cannot be an expert on everything (and beware of anyone who implies they are). That’s when the idea for a new format of Raising Teens was born. I know some incredible experts around the country (and overseas), on specific topics on adolescent health and development, and I decided that I wanted parents to be able to more easily find them and access their many incredible resources.


The New Format

So… *drum roll*… from Season 4 onwards, there will be an interview with a guest expert, each Wednesday, on all things teen mental health, teen behaviour or teen wellbeing. My guests are experts and advocates of young people and care deeply about this generation. Like me, they also want to support parents, carers and educators as they do what they do best…that is, supporting and loving their teens.

Season 4 kicks off today. Interviews are now complete, and my amazing producer and team are in the stages of editing the last few episodes. I am so excited for you to hear the practical and helpful advice that each expert brings. Topics coming up this season: vaping, self-harm, eating disorders and body-image, suicide, autistic teens, consent… and heaps more. I don’t shy away from the difficult subjects, but my aim is to bring you support, as well as hope. The episodes are varied and many already come from listener questions I was sent in Seasons 1 to 3, so please feel free to send me a question or topic suggestion you would like covered on the podcast.


We Kick Off with an Expert on Gen Z

Click on the image to download the full pdf ? to see some fun info. I am of the walkman, permed hair lot (can you guess?). There’s also the most popular terms used in your generation – hilarious.

What is the secret to raising healthy teenagers?

My first guest for S4. Ep.1

I’m so thrilled to have Mark McCrindle start off episode 1 of the new season format. There is no better person than Mark, to frame what we know about Generation Z (born between 1995 and 2009). Mark is a best-selling author, award winning social researcher and 2x TedX speaker on the generations. This is a lighter topic but a great one, because Mark talks about the trends for this generation of teens from: technology habits, what happened for them during Covid-19 lockdowns, their strengths, to their hopes, their dreams and the future world of work. Mark is so hopeful and positive about the interaction between generations. We also talk briefly about Gen Alpha (which Mark McCrindle named), born between 2010 and 2024, because some are just at the start of the tween years.

Spoiler: He is very frustrated that Gen Z were called the Snowflake Generation.


Finding Mark:

You can find Mark’s work and his books, ‘The ABC of XYZ’ and ‘Generation Alpha’ at McCrindle Research.


Final Thoughts

That was an incredible way to start the series. I love how Mark looks at Gen Z from such a hopeful perspective. They’re not just the selfish snowflake generation. Rather, they’re more likely to seek purpose and look outside of themselves. They care about the people around them and want to make a difference in the environment. That’s the young people I know!

Don’t miss future episodes or articles

  • You can find this episode of the Raising Teens podcast on Spotify, Apple podcasts or anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts.
  • And join my Facebook and Instagram community, so you don’t miss out on updates. My books are here.




Below is a direct link to the Gen Z episode of the Raising Teens podcast, on Spotify?.  I’d love it if you had a listen and shared Mark’s insights with someone else who loves their teen.

Mark McCrindle. Mark is a social researcher, best-selling author, influential thought leader, TEDx speaker and Principal of McCrindle Research. He is recognised as a leader in tracking emerging issues and researching social trends.

As an award-winning social researcher and futurist, Mark has appeared across many television networks and other media. His research-based advisory firm, McCrindle, helps organisations all over the world see a clearer picture by understanding the trends that inform strategic thinking.

Find out more at https://mccrindle.com.au

?The Importance of Touch


By Collett Smart
What is the secret to raising healthy teenagers?

For many of us, the importance of touch is well known intrinsically.  We often recognise it most when it is missing. Like during a pandemic?


First, the Research 

A shortage of healthy touch can have detrimental effects on our health and wellbeing, even leading to psychologically damaging effects.

Of course, we’ve known for many years about the importance of touch for the healthy physical and psychological growth of infants. Hospitals recommend kangaroo care and skin-to-skin contact for premature babies, as this is proven to aid physical development.

Healthy or pleasant touch, like hugs, sees your brain release a hormone called oxytocin. Often called the ‘hormone of attachment’. It even has a cute nickname – the ‘cuddle hormone’  This hormone seems to improve social bonding and even improves trust, while lowering anxiety and fear.

For instance, hugs and touch are even known to reduce stress. Which means there is real power in ‘good’ touch, safe touch and affectionate touch.

Dr Spence, of Oxford University has fascinating research on the importance of touch. He suggests that smell and touch are linked more closely to the emotional centres of the brain than vision or hearing. Yet, we are visually and aurally bombarded more than ever. 

What Teens Need

The love and affection of parents and siblings is the first place that young people learn about ‘good’ touch! But Spence believes that young people are experiencing ‘touch hunger’. And even though teens may hear that they are loved, they need to physically ‘feel’ love to truly fulfil the affection they crave.

Love needs touch to make it real.

Particularly fascinating, as the teen years are the time when our children seem to be pushing us away…

It is our job as parents and primary carers to fill our teen’s touch hunger, in ways that are meaningful and loving to them. This leads naturally into some of the most important conversations we have with our children – body boundaries and body safety, good touch and bad touch. (Not every week, or even every month, but periodically throughout their growth.)


But What If My Teen Hates Hugs or Pushes Me Away?

If you are unsure, ask your teen what types of touch feel safe and loving for them.

Also keep in mind that teens on the autism spectrum, don’t like some forms of touch. So we must stop if they show they don’t want to be hugged or touched in certain ways too.

But it is imperative that we don’t back off from affectionate touch altogether, just because our teen doesn’t like hugs. Look for ways to communicate your love for your teen, through the types of touch that speak their language.


What if YOU Hate Hugs?

Your own feelings and dislike for certain types of touch can lead to powerful conversations with teens, about other people’s body boundaries.

But again, look for ways to communicate your love for your teen through the types of touch that communicates love for both of you. This can also spark discussions about mutual affection within healthy relationships.


Some ideas for affectionate touch:

  • a tight side hug
  • a full-on bear-hug
  • a gentle hand squeeze
  • head massages at night
  • bedtime arm tickles
  • shoulder massages
  • fist bumps
  • a reassuring squeeze of the upper arm
  • hair ruffles
  • rough-and-tumble play
  • sitting close together on the couch while reading a book or watching a movie
  • (add your teen’s choice here)


Final Thoughts

Don’t give up on your teen when they push you away. Sometimes they’re testing the boundaries of your relationship, sometimes they’ve just had a bad day, sometimes they don’t even know why they’re doing it.

One thing they need most of all, is to know that you’re never giving up on reaching out to them.



Here is my podcast on this topic?.  Perhaps there’s a parent of a teen who really needs to hear this? Please share with them today.


I wrote more about the power of good touch in my book ‘They’ll be Okay’ in Conversation#1.

Collett Smart is a psychologist, qualified teacher, speaker and internationally published author of, ‘They’ll be Okay: 15 Conversations to help your child through troubled times’. The heart of Collett’s work is to support and bring Hope to parents of tweens and teens. She lives with her husband and 3 children in Sydney, Australia. Find out more at www.raisingteenagers.com.au

? Sleep Deprivation and Teens

Sleep deprivation & teens
The Parenting Question this week is from Judy, on Sleep Deprivation: “How much sleep do our teens need?”


It has been said that we have a chronically sleep deprived generation.


Why are Our Teens Struggling with Sleep Deprivation?

Back in 2006 the National Sleep Foundation found that more than half of the parents surveyed said their 15-to-17-year-olds routinely get seven or fewer hours of sleep. That is less than most adults, at a time when the brain needs more sleep for growth, development, and learning.

In 2014, a combined project by Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Manchester and Surrey Universities declared,

‘Society has become supremely arrogant in ignoring the importance of sleep’. 

Prof Russell Foster, at the University of Oxford, says people are getting between one and two hours less sleep a night than 60 years ago. Encouragingly, he does believe people have become more aware of this as an issue, but are still working our what to do about it.


What’s the link with Technology, Teens and Sleep Deprivation?

The combined study above cites, living in a 24hour society, coupled with technology overuse, as part of the issue.

On local shores, a research report released this week, by the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW Sydney, revealed (unsurprisingly) digital media and technologies as a great distraction in Australian family life.

The report indicates that;

‘The positive side of access to digital technologies is tempered by negative aspects, which can have an impact on children’s mental health and wellbeing. This was highlighted in one of the themes of the research – ‘the dual power of technology’.


“Causal research in this space is rare because it is difficult to establish directionality and cause and effect, but one direct consequence of increasing time spent on digital media and technologies is declining quantity, and often also quality, of sleep.”

There are numerous brain studies which show that melatonin, a hormone associated with nighttime, signals that it is time to sleep.

Both the Gonski report and Harvard Medical School highlight the effects of blue light on Melatonin production.

‘Melatonin is a hormone that influences circadian rhythms in our body and this can be suppressedby any kind of light. But it is blue light emitted by smartphone and computer screens at night that does it particularly powerfully.’

‘Blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night.’
(They also found that teenagers are more vulnerable to the effects of light than adults.)

What do we know about the benefits of sleep?

Well, we know that the studies on technology and sleep are complex.

But we also know that sleep is vitally important for learning, memory, brain development and health.

Sleep influences 4 main areas of our lives:

  1. Physiological (body systems; like cardiovascular and endocrine systems and physical health)
  2. Psychological (emotional and mental health)
  3. Psychosocial (behaviour, peer and family relationships)
  4. Cognitive (learning, attention, memory, problem solving)

What Happens When Sleep Is Lacking for Our Teens?

When we systematically allow our teens to go to bed late we couldn’t design a worse system for learning and wellbeing.

Simply – a sleep deprived teen cannot be a resilient teen.

Physical Health 

We know that during adolescence, the circadian rhythm shifts, and teens feel more awake later at night. Yet, switching on a screen or video game just before bedtime will push off sleepiness even later.

When we are sleep deprived, our physical strength and ability to perform in sport or physical activities is affected. Teens level of alertness during the day at school declines.

Tiredness can also sometimes be misdiagnosed as ADHD and poor attention skills.

Anecdotally, my colleagues and I also sometimes see teens misdiagnosed with ADHD, depression or other issues, when they are in fact sleep deprived and nobody has questioned their sleep habits. Additionally, teens already struggling with anxiety or depression, learning difficulties etc, will find their symptoms exacerbated when their brains are starved of sleep.


Cognitive Health

Tiredness affects memory and processing ability – which of course affects school performance.


Psychological/Emotional Health

Some teens display tiredness, not by yawning or falling asleep on the desk at school, but by emotional or psychological outbursts. This might look like: crying, bouts of anger; moodiness, irritability, self-worth issues, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

… and so teen relationships suffer.


Social Health

Adolescence is already a time when the developing brain is working overtime, to figure out relationships and appropriate behaviour.

Lack of sleep thus negatively affects peer and family relationships, as well as interactions with teachers and other adults in their world.


So what can we do with this information?

I especially loved Jocelyn Brewer’s comment on the Gonski report, in the SMH
“More statistics that freak you into doing nothing isn’t very helpful.”

I usually provide stats and research for parents and educators who like to know that there is something backing my recommendations on teen wellbeing.

So here is my, hopefully, ‘non-freak-out-able’ advice on sleep hygiene and your teen.


The Role of Parents

Adolescence is a time in which our children naturally strive for autonomy and want to make their own decisions, including when to go to sleep. Yet, experts agree that teens do better, in terms of mood and fatigue levels, if parents set the bedtime. One that is realistic for the needs of their child and family.


How Much Sleep is Recommended?

The experts agree that:

  • Older teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night
  • Younger teens need 9 to 11 hours

Supporting Sleep Hygiene Practices

Try this:

  • Encourage teens to be moderately active during the day – this boost sleep at night.. Even taking the dog for a walk is helpful!
  • Don’t over-schedule your teen with too many activities.
  • Reduce afternoon naps, if this is creating a jet lag effect (discussed below).
  • Engage in reading, rather than screens before bed.
  • Encourage the use of their bed for sleep. i.e. Avoid watching television/screens in bed.
  • Perhaps our biggest challenge (I know it’s mine!) would be modelling good screen and sleep habits to our teens.
  • Maintain a good bedtime routine – which signals to the brain that it is time to wind down (see below)
  • Talk to teens about what they notice about their behaviour, emotions, mood etc, when they are consistently lacking in sleep.
  • Ask them to brainstorm what a healthy screen time balance looks like for them.

Recommended Pre-sleep Wind Down

Get into a good bedtime routine – this gets the brain prepared for sleep.

  • Eat dinner a few hours before bed (a small snack later on is fine).
  • Start by switching to smaller screens. Turn down the brightness and work toward turning screens off an hour before bed time.
  • Eventually, switch off screens an hour before bedtime – at a minimum.
  • Try out software on devices which automatically warm up the colours on computer screens and handhelds in the evenings. i.e. More reds and yellows at sunset and returns to normal at sunrise.
  • Limit caffeine in the evenings.
  • Read a book at bedtime, rather than play games or watch shows with flashing lights and movement.
  • Be sure their bed is comfortable, and the bedroom is cool, dark and quiet.
  • Practice relaxation breathing at bedtime. i.e. Use slow breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth.
  • Again, try to get your teen on board with some healthy pre-sleep activities that they think will work for them.

Does Sleeping in On Weekends Help?

Many teens sleep less during the week and sleep in on the weekends to compensate (I know I did!). I think that sleeping in on weekend is okay and quite normal in the teen years (ahem – I still love a good nana nap). But many teens accumulate such a backlog of sleep debt during the week, that they don’t actually recover on the weekend. They then still wake up exhausted on Monday morning.

The shifting of sleep patterns on the weekend are, according to Carskadon, ‘out of sync with their weekday rhythm’ and is referred to as, ‘social jet lag.’


Final Thoughts

What About Evening Homework?

This is the question I get asked regularly, when I talk about teens and sleep.

As a start, when homework needs to be done, turn the brightness setting down on laptops & tablets (make use of the aforementioned ‘sunset’ tones). Where practical, encourage teens to do homework earlier in the evening and try to have a good follow on wind down/relaxing activity before bed. E.g save their shower for after homework and just before bedtime.


Teens should not regularly be doing homework, sport or hours of musical instrument practice much past 8:30pm for younger teens and  9pm for older teens. (This will depend on your child’s scheduled wake up time and school starting time. i.e in South Africa schools start at 7:30 and in Australia they start around 8:45). 

I mention instrument practice because some teens are expected to rehearse for an hour or 2 every night, after homework, which leads to a 10pm+ bedtime.

Later bedtimes, on RARE occasions, for short periods, or if there is an important assignment due, will naturally happen. However, if this happens regularly it will knock out your child’s sleep cycle. Contact the school, ask about their homework policy, talk about your child’s sleep and request an adjustment to homework.

Schools are crying out for teens to get enough sleep and are usually amazing in supporting parents and teens in this.


My point to ponder this week → Is there one thing you can do, to help your teen improve their sleep hygiene this week?


Here is my podcast on this topic?.  I’d love it if you had a listen and shared with a parent of teens.

? The Beauty of Family Traditions

What is the secret to raising healthy teenagers?

I’m regularly asked, “What is the secret to raising healthy teenagers?”


I think we often wonder if there’s some big secret to raising healthy teenagers. Something we are missing, that others know the answer to.

My answer is usually this, “There is no magic bullet, the small things ARE the big things!”


The Beauty of Traditions

One of the ‘small’ ways that we can bond with our teens, without realising it, is through everyday rituals and regular family traditions. Many family and cultural traditions communicate to young people that they belong to something bigger than themselves. It says, “This is us!” They don’t need to be set in stone and might evolve as your family grows and changes, but traditions communicate cohesion and belonging.

Even when teens roll their eyes at family traditions, most feel secure in knowing that their family has special times together. Through tumultuous times, traditions serve as family anchors and safe havens to be counted on.

The beauty of traditions is in their regularity. Regularity and ritual create a sense of stability.


What Works for Raising Healthy Teenagers?

Many things

In terms of traditions, there’s also no single tradition that brings some sort of magic. It’s about making the occasion work for your family structure. Your family tradition will leave its own memories.

For example, if you are new to an area or a country, some of your family traditions will only involve your little family unit, but at other times think about extending to include others who might be new or lonely themselves. I remember our first few Christmases in Australia, when we didn’t have any family living in the country. We invited as many couples as we could find, with small children, who didn’t have extended family of their own to a big Christmas Eve dinner at our home. Although my family lives near us now, we still invite people without extended family to join us all at our Christmas dinner table every year.

In his Parenting Plan, educator Andrew Lines suggests that parents use birthdays as times to both honour their child and celebrate new milestones of growth in responsibility. I get quite sad when I hear of families that don’t make a big thing of birthdays. A birthday signifies a celebration of your child’s life and says you are glad they are in yours.

My best friend’s family has a much-treasured birthday tradition that includes bunting and balloons hung the night before, and the birthday person chooses whatever breakfast they would like. The family wake the person up with singing and lit birthday candles, and they all sit down to breakfast for present opening. Our birthday traditions look very different, but they’re equally special.


Get your teens involved

Ask your teens which traditions or regular events have meant something to them. Sometimes we look back and realise something has become a tradition without realising it.


Family tradition ideas
  • Special birthday rituals – like cake in bed, or a special meal that your teen loves to eat. Andrew Lines suggests, buying intentional gifts – something worthwhile and memorable which reflects your child’s next stage of responsibility. You might perhaps offer a new freedom, to help your children understand the link between freedom and responsibility. This may simply be going to bed a little bit later than the previous year or being able to go a little further on their bicycle.
  • Annual holidays in the caravan or at the same beach or bush venue
  • Christmas Eve dinners with extended family and grandparents
  • Christmas in July
  • Movie marathons – My husband and eldest son did annual Lord of The Rings marathons for ages.
  • Passover dinners
  • Annual autumn picnics
  • Monthly Sunday afternoon teas in the sun
  • Parent and daughter/son campouts
  • Annual family feasts
  • Regular family dinners (<- I’ve written about the research on family meals before.)
  • Cooking with a traditional family recipe
  • Add your own here


Final Thoughts

Simply spend time with your teen, doing things they enjoy, to demonstrate your love and to show them they matter to you.


What are your teen’s favourite traditions?


Here is my podcast on this topic?.  I’d love it if you had a listen and shared with a parent of teens.

I wrote about traditions in my book ‘They’ll be Okay’ in the chapter, Unconditional Love: ‘I will love you, no matter what!’.

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