It's late to bed, early to rise for today's children

April 21, 1993|By Boston Globe

Jessica Chin, who is 7 and in second grade, doesn't go to bed before 9:30 p.m. and sometimes not until 11 p.m.

Isn't that a little late for a 7-year-old?

"Well, sure, it is," acknowledges her mother, Joan Chosik. Ideally, she says, her daughter's bedtime should be 8:30 p.m.

But Ms. Chosik and her husband, Tom Chin of Brookline, Mass., are working parents. She's a social worker at New England Medical Center; he's a policy analyst with the Sheraton Corp.

On weekdays, Jessica's bedtime depends on when Tom and Joan get home from work, how much time dinner takes, and how much personal time they spend with their daughter.

For their daughter and many other children of her generation, a late bedtime has become as much a part of the weekly routine as Saturday morning TV. Buying time in the evening gives both generations something they desperately need -- time to bond.

But the late nights may have a hidden cost.

Linda Baker, a fifth-grade teacher at the East Somerville (Mass.) Community School, says some of her students are more than just tired in the morning.

"They're stupefied," she said. "They're just not with it. Some of them don't come around mentally until 9:30 or 10. Then you can see them finally waking up."

In Laura and Jeffrey Holden's Weston, Mass., home, Taylour, 5, and Schuyler, 2, never go to bed before 8:30 p.m., and sometimes 9 p.m.

"By the time you get home at 6:30 or 7, feed them, bathe them and hang out with them, it just gets to be late," said Laura Holden, a sales representative. Her husband is vice president of sales for a school supplies distributor.

David Brooks' children are considerably older, 14 and 17. He, too, notes a trend toward later bedtimes.

Between having dinner together every night -- a family meal, often with candlelight, takes precedence in his house -- and cleaning up, finishing homework and spending time together, Kim and Josh rarely get to bed before 10:30 p.m.

"When my wife and I were growing up, mothers didn't work. Dinner was at 6 sharp and I was in my room doing homework by 7. Those patterns just don't work anymore, not with both of us working," said Mr. Brooks, director of the Children and Youth Project of Mount Washington Valley in New Hampshire. He and his wife, Leslie Kane, a fashion designer, live in Intervale, N.H.

Sociologist Rosanna Hertz says the late bedtime phenomenon is not just a result of more parents working. Ms. Hertz, a professor of sociology at Wellesley College who studies families, gender and work issues, says children are staying up late in all kinds of family situations.

"Sometimes, whole families live on the schedule of a parent who works a late shift," she said. Some children are company for a lonely parent in the evening, and others are up late watching TV in their bedrooms, unbeknown to their parents. Children are staying up late even in more traditional families where the mother doesn't work outside the home.

"It's got as much to do with fathers wanting a more active parenting role as it does with mothers who work," said Ms. Hertz, author of "More Equal than Others: Women and Men in Dual-Career Marriages."

With late bedtimes, she said, "maybe we'll finally have a generation of children who don't grow up saying, 'Gee, I never knew my father.' "

That certainly seems to be true in the Lexington, Mass., household of Hanna Sherman and Daniel Sheff.

Dr. Sherman, a pediatrician, currently is not working outside the home, and her husband, a rheumatologist, rarely gets home before 6:30 p.m. Dr. Sherman and the children, Rebecca, 6, and Jocelyn, 3 1/2 , eat early. When Dr. Sheff gets home, he grabs something quick.

"He carries his food into the playroom, or sits in the bathroom while they are in the bathtub," Dr. Sherman said. "Then they have time to play together." This routine gets the children to sleep about 9 p.m.

"We could never do a 7:30 or 8 o'clock bedtime. He'd never have time with them and that's too important to us all," she said.

Dr. Sherman disputes that late bedtimes have bad effects on her children. For one thing, she says, "kids have different sleep requirements. Mine just don't need a lot."

The 3 1/2 -year-old still naps. The 5-year-old is in half-day kindergarten, "so if she's tired, it's late in the day," Dr. Sherman said.

The issue may be different for school-age children.

Mr. Brooks says his children do get tired. "Both have to be up by 5:30, 5:45. It's especially tough on my 14-year-old. Every once in a while, she crashes," he said.

Psychologist Arnold L. Stolberg thinks the late hours are tough on all school-age children. "It's not like these kids can have a cup of coffee to perk them up," said Dr. Stolberg, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who specializes in family studies.

He says new research shows that the biggest chunk of a child's self-esteem comes from academic performance, even if he or she excels in an extracurricular activity or sport. Other data show that children who don't get enough sleep don't do as well in school.

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