Stanford trains teen ‘sleep ambassadors’

Stanford University’s Center for Sleep Sciences is training teenagers to be “sleep ambassadors,” reports CBS News. Teens learn the risks of sleep deprivation and spread the word to friends.

Doctors say teenagers need eight to 10 hours of sleep each night, but according to the National Sleep Foundation, 87 percent of high school students don’t get that much. That impairs their judgment and concentration and can cause anxiety, depression and even thoughts of suicide.

. . . Research has found that when kids become teenagers, their circadian rhythm – or internal biological clock – shifts to a later time, making them biologically inclined to fall asleep about two hours later than they used to.

But waking up early to get to school on time cuts off their deepest and most productive hours of sleep.

Students think the way to learn is to stay up late and cram, said Nora Siegler, 17, a student at Menlo-Atherton High near Stanford. “I think the biggest takeaway from the lecture was how vital sleep is for memory retention and consolidation of memory.”

Some high schools are pushing back start times so students can get more sleep. “Nearly 10% of U.S. high schools currently start before 7:30 a.m., 40% before 8 a.m., and only about 15% after 8:30 a.m.,” writes Terra Ziporyn Snider of Start School Later. Some teens must wake at 5 or 6 a.m. to catch a school bus. Middle and high school students build up a “huge sleep debt every week of the school year.”

When my daughter was in high school, she’d sleep 12 hours or longer on weekends to catch up.

Testing for joy and grit? 


Jade Cooney leads “good-behavior games” with her fifth-grade class at Visitacion Valley Elementary School in San Francisco. Photo: Elizabeth D. Herman, New York Times

Schools are trying to measure students’ “social and emotional skills,” reports Kate Zernike in the New York Times. But how do you measure “joy” and “grit?” Nobody really knows.

SAN FRANCISCO — The fifth graders in Jade Cooney’s classroom compete against a kitchen timer during lessons to see how long they can sustain good behavior — raising hands, disagreeing respectfully and looking one another in the eye — without losing time to insults or side conversations.

As reward for minutes without misconduct, they win prizes like 20 seconds to kick their feet up on their desks or to play rock-paper-scissors.

And starting this year, their school and schools in eight other California districts will test students on how well they have learned the kind of skills like self-control and conscientiousness that the games aim to cultivate — ones that might be described as everything you should have learned in kindergarten but are still reading self-help books to master in middle age.

The newly revised federal education law “requires states to include at least one nonacademic measure in judging school performance,” notes Zernike.  But advocates of teaching social-emotional skills “warn that the definitions are unclear and the tests faulty.”

“I do not think we should be doing this; it is a bad idea,” said Angela Duckworth, the Stanford psychologist who popularized the “growth mindset.” Her new book, out in May, is titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

. . . Last spring, after attending a White House meeting on measuring social-emotional skills, she and a colleague wrote a paper warning that there were no reliable ways to do so. “Our working title was all measures suck, and they all suck in their own way,” she said.

A 2011 analysis of 213 school-based social-emotional skills programs found that they improved academic achievement, writes Zernike. The next year, Paul Tough extolled schools that teach “grit” in How Children Succeed: Grit Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character

Next year, the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress will include questions about students’ social-emotional skills.

Parents don’t want Uncle Sam to become Uncle Shrink, writes Robert Holland in Townhall.

Is social media fueling teen suicide?


Credit: Victor Kerlow

Parents blame stress for the suicides of two 17-year-old girls in Plano, Texas. Two boys at New York City’s Fordham Prep jumped in front of trains a few weeks apart. The youth suicide rate has been rising since 2007, reports the Centers for Disease Control.

Social media may be fueling teen suicide by encouraging young people to become “disconnected from the reality of their own existences,” writes Dr. Keith Ablow.

Facebook, Twitter, Tinder and the like have made them think of themselves as mini-reality-TV versions of themselves. Too many of them see their lives as a series of flickering photos or quick videos. They need constant doses of admiration and constant confirmation of their tenuous existence, which come in the form of Facebook “likes” and Twitter “retweets.”

Heroin use is spreading, writes Ablow. “Heroin is just the powdered equivalent of text messaging, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and the rest of the technology drugs Americans— especially American teen— are mainlining every single day.”

Young people are “increasingly fascinated with dramas about vampires and zombies,” he adds. “They know something about the walking dead.”

CDC to study teen suicide ‘epidemic’

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will conduct an  epidemiological study of teen suicides in affluent Palo Alto, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News.  Four high school students took their own lives in 2014 and 2015 and six killed themselves in 2009 and 2010. Most stepped in front of a train.

Hanna Rosin write about the “Silicon Valley suicides” in the December Atlantic.

Suicide prevention signs are posted by Palo Alto train tracks. Photo: Dai Sugano, San Jose Mercury News

Suicide prevention signs are posted by Palo Alto train tracks. Photo: Dai Sugano, San Jose Mercury News

In response to the suicides and concern about student stress, Palo Alto “schools are starting later so that students can get more sleep,” writes Noguchi. “Gunn High School students created a student support group. New fencing rims the Caltrain tracks. The school district and city have offered sessions on parenting and mental health issues. And counseling services have been expanded.”

The CDC conducted an “Epi-Aid” assessment last year in Fairfax County, Virginia, where “85 youths and young adults ages 10 through 24 killed themselves from September 2010 through October 2014,” she reports.

The CDC’s Fairfax study listed a variety of risk factors, including “parents’ pressure for success, parental denial of children’s mental health issues, high counselor-to-student ratios at school, the occasional cruelty of social media and the stigma of mental illness,” writes Noguchi. Media coverage of suicides may have encouraged suicidal behavior.

Barbie puts on a few pounds

For years, Barbie’s come in different skin tones and hair styles. Now, little girls can play with a “curvy” (overweight) doll, as well as petite and tall models, reports Eliana Dockterman in  Time.

That’s supposed to help girls develop realistic expectations of what the human body looks like. “We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty,” said Evelyn Mazzocco, a Mattel senior vice president and global general manager of Barbie, in a statement.

Will Pudgy Ken be next?

However, Mattel’s tests showed little girls are not leading the fat acceptance movement, writes Dockterman She visited Mattel’s testing center, where a six-year-old girl gave the new Curvy Barbie a voice.

“Hello, I’m a fat person, fat, fat, fat,”

. . . When an adult comes into the room and asks her if she sees a difference between the dolls’ bodies, she modifies her language. “This one’s a little chubbier,” she says.

. . .  A shy 7-year-old refuses to say the word fat to describe the doll, instead spelling it out, “F, a, t.”

“I don’t want to hurt her feelings,” she says a little desperately.

“We see it a lot. The adult leaves the room and they undress the curvy Barbie and snicker a little bit,” says Tania Missad, who runs the research team for Mattel’s girls portfolio.

Most of the girls Dockterman observed chose their favorite doll based on hair, she writes. “A curvy, blue-haired doll that many girls dub Katy Perry is by far the most popular. But when asked which doll is Barbie, the girls invariably point to a blonde.”

Though she’s a billion-dollar brand, Barbie has been losing market share, writes Dockterman. “Hasbro won the Disney Princess business away from Mattel, just as Elsa from the film Frozen dethroned Barbie as the most popular girl’s toy.”

Elsa is thin — but “she comes with a backstory of strength and sisterhood.” And she’s got her own movie.

Help an asthma sufferer, get suspended

Mandy Cortes complains that her son, Anthony Ruelas, was suspended for helping a classmate.

When a girl collapsed from an asthma attack at a Killeen, Texas alternative school, a classmate who carried her to the nurse’s office was suspended for leaving class. The teacher had told students to remain seated while she waited to hear back from the nurse.

Anthony Ruelas, 15, said his eighth-grade classmate was wheezing and gagging for three minutes. According to the teacher’s referral, the girl fell out of her chair.  “Anthony proceeded to go over and pick her up, saying ‘f—k that we ain’t got time to wait for no email from the nurse.’ He walks out of class and carries the other student to the nurse.”

His mother, Mandy Cortes, is considering home-schooling him.

Also in Texas, an honor roll student was suspended — and may be sent to an alternative school for 30 days — for sharing her asthma inhaler with a classmate who suffered an attack during PE class. The other girl also was suspended and faces alternative school, the automatic penalty for sharing controlled substances.

Teen suicide in Silicon Valley: Why?

I raised my daughter in Palo Alto. The public schools educated the children of high-tech engineers, entrepreneurs and Stanford professors. It was competitive — but also fun to put out the newspaper or compete in Mock Trial with so many smart kids.

In The Suicide Clusters at Palo Alto High Schools, Hanna Rosin tries to understand a series of suicides in 2009-10 and again in 2014-15.

Most of the kids who killed themselves stepped in front of a train.

For the most part, these students were doing well in school, had plenty of friends, seemed to be normal teens with normal parents. One girl had just gotten into the college of her dreams. A boy had just tried out for varsity basketball.

Adolescent dysfunction has a U-shaped curve, writes Rosin. Wealthy teens are doing as badly as poor teens, researchers say.

The rich middle- and high-school kids (Suniya) Luthar and her collaborators have studied show higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse on average than poor kids, and much higher rates than the national norm. They report clinically significant depression or anxiety or delinquent behaviors at a rate two to three times the national average.

Successful parents set high expectations for their children. High school students believe there’s one path to success — get into a “good” college — and little room for mistakes.

Many of the Palo Alto suicides were Chinese-American or had some Asian ancestry, writes Rosin. Was it Tiger Moms and Dads?

In addition to pressure to excel, “affluent kids felt remarkably isolated from their parents,” Luthar found. They got lots of parental attention — all that helicoptering — but didn’t feel close.

In the end, nothing really seems to explain why these adolescents ended their lives, concludes Rosin.

Nationwide, the adolescent suicide rate has “dropped dramatically since the 1990s,” perhaps because of better anti-depressants and suicide-prevention campaigns, she writes. But, in the past few years, teen suicide is on the rise again.

Zuckerberg-Chan will start free private school

“Hoping to counter poverty’s toll on children,” Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg and his pediatrician wife, Priscilla Chan, are starting a tuition-free private preschool and K-8 school, reports Sharon Noguchi in the San Jose Mercury News. The Primary School will provide free education and health care to children in East Palo Alto, a low-income, minority community.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg are expecting their first child in a few months.

 Zuckerberg and Chan donated $100 million to improve Newark schools in 2010. That paid for controversy and political turmoil.

“Those children in high performing charters are better off. But those in the district schools are not,” says Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize.

She “concludes that Zuckerberg neglected to understand the complexity of public education, failed to talk to people on the ground and approved top-down changes that provoked outrage and resistance,” writes Noguchi.

By starting a private school, the couple will have total control of their project, which is inspired by the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The new school, which will serve 700 children and their families, will be a multi-million-dollar commitment.  A local health clinic “will provide comprehensive health care from prenatal care through medical, dental and mental-health services,” reports Noguchi. The Zuckerberg-Chans already have donated $5 million.

Chan tutored in inner-city Boston as a Harvard undergrad. “It became evident I could do all I wanted, but there were much bigger problems that were preventing these kids from succeeding in school,” she told Noguchi.

Chan taught science at a San Jose private school before going to medical school. She now treats indigent patients at San Francisco General Hospital.

Lunch goes organic, non-GMO

Only organic, non-GMO lunches will be served at the two schools in the Sausalito Marin City School District, north of San Francisco. The district contracts with Turning Green, a nonprofit, to provide the meals with the help of The Conscious Kitchen.

The Conscious Kitchen prepares a lunch at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy. (Photo: Turning Green)

The Conscious Kitchen prepares a lunch at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy. (Photo: Turning Green)

Turning Green claims schools have seen a drop in disciplinary problems and truancy since the schools piloted the organic meals.

I ate a Turning Green lunch once at a conference. It was better than the average cafeteria food — a low bar — and fresher. Lots of greens. But I missed my GMOs.

Judy Blume: Teens ‘jump straight into sex’ 

Author Judy Blume, known for writing frankly about adolescent sexuality, wishes teens wouldn’t jump straight into sex, she tells Celia Walden, a  Telegraph reporter.

Judy Blume Photo: Jay Williams, Daily Telegraph  Pix by Jay Williams, Bristol, pix@jaywilliams.co.uk, 07770 576076 Pic shows Judy Blume at the Hay Festival, Hay-on-Wye, Powys today Sunday 1-6-14

Judy Blume Photo: Jay Williams

“Rather than jump right into intercourse . . . I wish they would go through all the stages that we used to go through,” says Blume. “It’s really, really good to go through those stages: the hours and hours of ‘necking,’ ‘making-out,’ ‘kissing,’ ‘touching’ and going to the different ‘bases’.”

Blume had planned to be a teacher, but turned to writing when she was raising her two children.

Her teenager daughter Randy asked her mother to write Forever – or, as she put it: ‘A book where two nice kids do it and nobody has to die’,” reports Walden.

“The thing is not to be afraid, but to be ready,” she says. “If you wait until your kids are feeling those sexual feelings, it’s too late. Sex education should be an ongoing thing that starts with the very first question.”

In Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, the main character craves information about sex, notes Walden. Now “youngsters are swamped with it, thanks to the internet – and most of it pornographic.”

Blume is fine with “porn for grown-ups,” but says “it sends an awful message to young men and women. . . .  I think all you can do is talk to young kids and that isn’t happening enough.”

I’m too old to have learned about sex from Judy Blume. (Chapter two of The Group was very educational.) I enjoyed reading the Fudge books when my daughter was young.