Tips for Parents: Hygiene, Hormones and Happiness
Webb, N.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development
2008

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Nadia Webb, who sums up a number of key points about teens and hygiene, hormones and happiness.

Parenting is always 20/20 in hindsight. I think that is the why the idea of the "good enough" parent is important. Kids are ruined by bad parenting, not human parenting. We always wing it. You will make mistakes, but the integrity and humanity with which you handle them will be more important. You teach your child how to apologize, how to own up to mistakes, and how to live with them and move on gracefully, how to change and grow, and how to be kind to him or herself and others when they err. It is often the more important lesson.

Sleep: Sleep is one of the big issues that no one has raised specifically, but it is important because it is such a conflict zone in adolescence. A small cohort of gifted teens seem to need very little sleep, thriving on 3-4 hours. They have often been this way since early childhood and will remain this way into their adult lives. They are the small minority. The most common challenges for adolescents involve sleep deprivation.

Teens often quite honestly complain that do not feel sleepy at 1 AM, chaffing at 10 PM bedtimes during school nights. However most parents have the unfortunate task of attempting to rouse these irritable, sleep-deprived zombie children the next morning. This is a biologically driven phenomenon. One of the unforeseen aspects of puberty is a change in the sleep cycle. Melatonin, the hormone that triggers sleep, releases around seven PM in children. As children enter adolescents, the release of melatonin drifts closer to 11 PM. They become night owls. It is hardwired, six AM swim practice or seven AM school busses notwithstanding. This phase shift in sleep also prompts some of the bitterest struggles of adolescence.

Often mood will deteriorate as the week (and their sleep debt) progresses. You can try and shield their sleep time by scheduling the week to allow for later morning starts. You can also talk to a pediatrician about options like melatonin to help them reset their clock. If you child is sleeping more than 2 hours per night additionally on weekends, sleep deprivation and phase shifted sleep may be an issue. The main symptom of sleep debt is irritability and then poor concentration if it is protracted.

Estrogen: There is nothing pathological about estrogen production by itself and estrogen is a well documented cognitive enhancer. When there are problem with any hormone production it is usually because the body isn't ready for the hormone or there is abnormality in the up or down reguation of receptors. It is my assumption that this is a child who is facing a change in the developmental tasks being asked of her. If you noticed a profound change, you might consult with an endocrinologist. Estrogen should be fine if it is in normal supply in an adolescent.

Hygiene: Hygiene is often something that responds well to a combination of guile and candor. Often kids just don't realized that sweaty teenagers smell differently (aka worse) than sweaty kids. Nothing like puberty to prompt the need for better bathing habits. Sometimes the avoiding baths is part of avoiding growing up - they are going to willfully ignore facial hair and b.o. For some, they are simply ignorant and we have to keep working on civilizing the little heathens. This is in the the "I know you don't like it, and it has to happen." You can simply hold your ground an expect at least 2 weeks of hard protest and 4 more weeks of lackluster protest. Pick the limit you can enforce with confidence and with spousal agreement. (such as "Bathing has to happen every other day. Period.")


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