My oldest son started high school this fall. At his orientation, the counselors spoke to parents about the greatest challenge they see students face in school.
I expected to hear about poor study habits or substance abuse, but to my initial surprise, these were not at the top of the list. Apparently, the greatest challenge presenting itself in the office of the high school guidance counselor is a growing number of kids struggling with anxiety and depression.
Can you guess why?
A combination of overscheduling and sleep deprivation, linked to two main contributors: electronics use and extracurricular activities. We were encouraged as parents to go home and talk to our teenagers about setting boundaries in these areas. Parents across the auditorium scribbled notes furiously as the counselors outlined some suggestions: limit texting, monitor bedtimes, cut back on team practices. I couldn’t help but think to myself: Tonight there will be many demonstrations of teenage angst when Mom shows up with her new list of suggestions.
What is unfolding at my son’s high school is a clear illustration of spiritual truth: the need for regular periods of rest in our lives.
From the earliest pages of the Bible, we find God instituting patterns of activity and rest — not just any kind of rest, but rest with the intent to engage in worship and community. The concept of Sabbath weaves its way through the Old Testament and the New, occupying a prominent place among the Ten Commandments and informing our understanding of heaven.
Despite biblical precedent, few Christians understand or practice Sabbath as a regular part of life, and, consequently, neither do their children.
Christian parents bear the responsibility of teaching our children the value of rest, through our words and through our actions. Children don’t set the calendar in our homes — if they are overscheduled or sleep deprived, the fault lies with us. How can we better discharge our duty of raising children to seek Sabbath? To value downtime to reconnect with God and family?
While I admire the high school guidance counselors’ optimism, age 14 is probably too late to start imposing boundaries on our child’s rest habits and schedule. We need a plan, and we need it early. How will we safeguard for our families the key Sabbath concepts of rest, worship and community?
Here are a few suggestions that have helped our family to honor God in our rest.
Late-night texting and TV watching, online chatting, surfing the Internet — all can rob a child of rest.
Children between the ages of seven and 12 require a whopping 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night. This is the very age range during which most acquire the electronics to rob them of needed sleep. Parents can guard their children’s rest simply by keeping electronics in sight. We made a rule in our home that no electronics are allowed upstairs: no TVs, computers, phones or games in bedrooms or rooms where their use cannot be monitored.
Each night, those of us who have phones leave them in a spot on the kitchen counter. These measures give us accountability to each other, keep electronics as a shared rather than individual privilege, and force our electronics to obey our family’s Sabbath priorities of rest, worship and community.
Well-rested kids bypass many of the unsavory habits of their tired counterparts: fits, backtalk, forgetfulness, drama, isolation and, yes, anxiety and depression. Guarding your child’s rest actually gives him or her a running start at Christlike behavior, even during adolescence.