• Why Sleep Matterzzz

    The research is clear -- sleepy teens are vulnerable teens. The ideal amount of time a teen should sleep per night is 9.25 hours; 8 hours is considered the tipping point.

    Most high school students in America are chronically sleep-deprived, putting their health and academic performance in jeopardy.  Sleepy students have difficulty listening, learning, and making good choices and often become depressed. The good news is that teen behaviors that concern us the most can be mitigated and sometimes even reversed with sufficient sleep.

    For high school students there is a perfect storm of environmental factors that impact sleep. Adolescents’ circadian biology shifts to later bed and wake times. Demands on their time include homework, before and after school activities, after school employment, and social media.

    More often than not, the increased discrepancy of weekday and weekend bed and wake times makes things more difficult for a student.  It is a myth that we can “catch up” on sleep. Sleeping until 2 in the afternoon on the weekend is akin to experiencing jet lag, which can persist up to three days and compromise alertness at school.

    Parenting tips on how to support teens in getting a good night’s sleep include:  

    • checking in to see if there are any problems that need solving before the next day
    • making the bedroom a device-free and TV-free zone
    • having a bedtime routine
    • stopping accessing devices at least 30 minutes before going to bed, and
    • modeling healthy device use and sleep habits  

    Sleep is a health imperative no different from eating healthily and exercising regularly.  It is essential for physical and mental health, safety, productivity, and wellbeing. Sufficient sleep in youth is linked to better grades, higher test scores, better attendance, less tardiness and fewer dropouts. It is also linked to less substance abuse, less depression, less impulsivity and self-destructive behaviors.

    For more  parenting tips on how to support your teen in healthy sleep, go to www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/10-ways-to-help-your-kid-get-a-good-nights-sleep#

  • Strengthening Your Teen’s Self Worth

    No Such Thing as Perfect: Strengthening Your Teen’s Self Worth

    When posed with the question, “What do you hope for your teen?” parents nearly always respond with some version of they want their teen to be happy and successful.  

    Most MVLA students believe this but can also feel overwhelmed with the pressure of what they believe it is going to take to be happy and successful, namely, that they have to be perfect.  This desire to be perfect is woven in the culture of fear and scarcity in which we live, the world in which most of us go to bed at night thinking about what we did not get done and wake up in the morning feeling like we did not get enough sleep.  

    The landscape of social and economic conditions is far tougher now than it was 30 years ago.  Our teens, especially our juniors and seniors, understand that once out of high school their arena will be a worldwide competition. They often feel that to have their best chance, they must rise to the top of the social and academic heap in high school and outdo friends and classmates, students they often perceive as smarter, more socially adept, better looking, and with nicer things.  

    Some signs of perfectionism to watch for include:

    • All or nothing thinking
    • Unrealistic standards (I have to excel at everything I do; if I don’t I am a failure)
    • Focus on results
    • Being depressed by unmet goals
    • Resisting starting a task because of being afraid of not being able to do it perfectly
    • Avoiding classes or school

    The most painful form of perfectionism is when teens believe they have to be perfect to win the approval of friends, parents and teachers. This struggle for approval is actually an unconscious struggle to increase self-worth and inevitably leads to painful outcomes.

    Teens often feel like something is wrong with them, that there is something broken, deficient or damaged about them. And the last thing they want to do is admit this or talk about it.  A way you can be helpful is by paying attention to how your teen is talking about themselves. If your teen tells you that they are stupid because they did not score well on a test, you can respond that not studying for the test was a bad choice, but they are not stupid.  If this conversation becomes intense, experts like Brene Brown advise:

    • Listen. A good conversation opener is, “What happened?”, “What’s going on?”
    • Empathize with your teen’s experience Do not fix, offer a silver lining, or problem solve during this moment.
    • Provide hope (i.e., concrete achievable plan that aligns with your teen’s need/goal)
    • Reassure your teen that you love them unconditionally and that you will get through this together
    • Be grateful you and your teen are connecting

    In a book titled, “Just a Thought: Uncensored Narratives on Teen Mental Health,” local teens (including students from MVLA) share helpful things parents have said to them.  They include:

    • “Do you need a therapist?”
    • “Reassured me that my concerns/cause of mental distress were not something that would affect my future and that I needed to concentrate on being happy.”
    • “That they would do anything to help me feel happy again.”
    • “Mental health is just as important as physical health.”
    • “I’m here for you no matter what.”
    • “Said that they were open to talk about anything with me with no judgment.”
    • “Grades won’t be written on your gravestone.”
    • “To take a step back and relax.”
    • “Expressing love.”

    Here are some resources to help you with these conversations

    What Adolescents Really Need from Parents

    “Teen Stress:  What Parents Need to Know”

    “Shame Resilience Theory:  How to Respond to Feelings of Shame”

  • Social Media Use

    Snapchat, Reddit, Instagram, Facebook and more...social media poses many challenges for parents and school officials. Many of our students are exposed to things online that they have not talked about with you or another safe adult, from bullying, racism, inappropriate sexual content, threats and violence.

    Our MVLA Wellness team has some advice for parenting in this digital era. Your approach to a  conversation and limit-setting should be different for your younger children than older teens. In all cases, the aim is to protect and empower your teen.

     Have a conversation with your teen about the tension between privacy and trust - and their understanding of when they should reach out at home for help. At school we encourage students to reach out to a trusted adult. If a student does not feel like s/he has this relationship, we invite them to reach out to an academic counselor, the Student Services coordinator, or their Assistant Principal.

    Ensure that you have full access to all social media programs and apps they are using so that you know the sites your teen is using and the people s/he is associating with.

    Talk with your teen about sexting and healthy relationships.

    Teach your teen to think about their online reputation, the permanence of the online world, their digital footprint, online dangers, and the impact inappropriate messages or images could have for future college administrators and employers.

    Limit device use. If your teen is struggling with independently putting their devices away, consider collecting devices or blocking access so they get enough uninterrupted sleep. Also, please consider setting uninterrupted study time, as well as taking breaks from the electronic world.

    We understand that most teens are tech savvy and may break these rules.  If this happens, we encourage you to keep coming back to the conversation.  You and your teen strive to launch them into the best opportunities. Please protect this effort with your attention to digital effects on their lives. We will continue doing our best to promote your teen’s growth, wellness, and school success.


    Additional resources:

    Common Sense Media

    Washington Post article “What Teens Wish Their Parents Knew about Social Media

  • Support Students During Testing Time

    It’s spring so AP testing and finals are upon us.  It’s natural for students to feel nervous for these kinds of tests.  Many students feel intense pressure to perform well. It’s important for parents and students to remember that learning has been taking place all year.  

    Here are some tips for before the tests:

    • Eat, drink, and sleep.  A week before the exam support your student in eating healthier foods, drinking plenty of water and sleeping sensibly, especially the night before the test.
    • Encourage them to review notes but not to try to cram, which only increases anxiety and exhaustion.
    • Remind your student to take slow deep breaths to calm their body before the test, during the test, and after the test.
    • Ask if it’s a good night to postpone chores or do them together.
    • Ask if there’s anything you can do to help them prepare. Convey your support of their best efforts, regardless of outcome.
    • Tell them that you trust that they will do the best they can and that is all they need to do!
    • Welcome them at day’s end with their favorite dinner or treat.

    The takeaway is this:  while test scores are important, they are not all-important.  Test scores do not define your student and there are alternative ways to demonstrate knowledge and skills on college applications.

  • It Takes a Village

    It Takes a Village

    In September 2018, the Mountain View Voice reported on the increased demand for mental health support of teens and children:

    County struggles to meet 'overwhelming' needs

    County partners with El Camino for teen mental health care

    State approves $15M for youth mental health centers

    Your teen’s social emotional health and wellbeing is our shared concern.  This newsletter includes information and tools for you if you notice any of the five signs of emotional suffering in your teen. If you see something, say something, and when your teen needs more help than you can provide, help them access that support.

    In any given year one in five youths will experience mental illness.  For the last two school years more than 800 students have been referred to CHAC therapists for mental health support (e.g., about 400+ at each high school).  When CHAC therapists’ caseloads are full, or, outside professional support is appropriate, CHAC therapists support students and parents/guardians in accessing outside support.

    At school we work to support their social-emotional wellness through:

    • Wellness activities provided throughout the school year
    • Social emotional learning
    • Cultivating a sense of belonging
    • Strengthening mental health awareness and health-seeking behavior
    • Access to mental health support, at school and via outside services

    CHAC high school therapists strive to provide:

    • brief therapy sessions within a limited time (6 - 8 sessions) to teach coping skills, problem solving, and achievable goals;  
    • referrals to outside providers
    • acute crisis intervention support

    Parents can help their teens be successful students by supporting them in the following ways:

    1. Negotiate and hold the line on a daily routine that allows 8 to 9+ hours of sleep every  night and remove access to electronics in rooms when students are/should be sleeping.
    2. Help teens set realistic goals and systematically work toward them making adjustments as needed.
    3. Allow teens freedom relative to their developmental stage (i.e., 9th graders and 12 graders should be treated very differently in most cases) knowing that they will both succeed and fail and that failure is often the better teacher.
    4. Be specific in your praise for your teen’s contributions to family, school and community.  For example, “I really liked the point you made when you were expressing your opinion about …,” It was kind of you to offer to take care of the neighbor’s dog when …,” and “I see that you worked hard on that paper and were willing to reach out to your teacher when you needed help, I’m proud of you for persevering to complete a difficult assignment.” These reflections of their character and capacities are helpful to your teen when they need to bounce back from a perceived failure.  
    5. Reinforce and help with responsible decision-making. Help them identify the impact of their choices on themselves and others, and to use empathy skills, relationship skills, and social awareness to make decisions.

    Mental health providers in our area and other local resources may be found through accessing these links. Below are websites with excellent mental health information.

    HEARD Alliance:  The HEARD Alliance (Health Care Alliance for Response to Adolescent Depression) provides resources for treating depression and related conditions.  Family information is provided about depression, suicide, substance abuse, anxiety, learning impairments, eating disorders, sexuality, bullying, and college transition.

    Each Mind Matters:  Millions of individuals and thousands of organizations are working to advance mental health.  Each Mind Matters is California’s mental health movement.

    SanaMente es el Movimiento de Salud Mental de California;  California está tomando medidas sin precedentes para eliminar las barreras del estigma y la discriminación, y para que cada persona sepa que la ayuda está disponible y se pueda sentir segura pidiendo el apoyo que necesite.

    Half of Us:  Videos created by the Jed Foundation and MTV use stories of students and high-profile artists to increase awareness about mental health problems and the importance of getting help.

    Finding and maintaining social-emotional health and life balance is challenging for teens. There is abiding truth to the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. As part of your “village,” our wellness team, teachers and community mental health resources are here for you and your teen.

  • First Semester Finals and Winter Break

    First semester finals and winter break are upon us. It’s natural for students to feel nervous about these tests and pressure to perform well.

    Please help students remember that learning has been taking place all semester and that they will fare better if they arrive to their semester finals rested and alert.

     Here are some tips for the care of your student’s brain and body before the finals:

    • Eat, drink, and sleep.  Support your student in eating healthier foods, drinking plenty of water and sleeping sensibly, especially the night before the test.
    • Encourage them to review notes but not to try to cram, which only increases anxiety and exhaustion.
    • Remind your student to take slow deep breaths to calm their body before, during and after the test.
    • Ask if it’s a good night to postpone chores or do them together.
    • Ask if there’s anything you can do to help them prepare. Convey your support of their best efforts, regardless of outcome.
    • Tell them that you trust that they will do the best they can and that is all they need to do.
    • Welcome them at day’s end with their favorite dinner or treat.

    The takeaway is this: Your teen is much more than their grades. While grades are important, they are not all-important.

    First semester finals are paired with the winter break and this time can be an opportunity for relaxation and renewal.  Indeed, this can be a good time to commit/recommit to healthy sleep! Dr. Rafael Pelayo, a sleep specialist at Stanford’s Sleep Medicine Center and father of two Mountain View High School graduates, recently spoke at Mountain View High School about, “Sleep:  Crucial Key to Wellness and Success.”  Dr. Pelayo advised:

    • Stick to a sleep schedule
    • Go outside in natural sunlight for 30+ minutes each day
    • Exercise regularly, but not close to bedtime
    • Relax and unwind before bed:  reading, music, hot bath
    • When it’s time for sleep, keep your teen’s bedroom device-free, dark and cool
    • Avoid coffee, soda, tea and chocolate before bed
    • Avoid large meals and beverages late at night

    The recommended amount of sleep for teens is 9.25 hours per night.  Researchers reluctantly admit eight hours of sleep will work. It’s important to remember that your teen’s brain was less fragile at 8 years old than it is now, no matter what your teen says.  

    Help your teen start the year with a healthy step forward.  Sleep mitigates depression and anxiety and students who are rested and alert learn with a lot less effort than when sleepy or sleep deprived.


    Happy Holidays!

  • Well-being over Summer Break

    5 Parenting Tips for Promoting Emotional Wellbeing this Summer

    When the structure of the school day is gone, it’s important to replace it with some sort of routine.  It can be beneficial for parents and teens to sit down and talk about summer plans so teens will know what to expect. Teens should have some unstructured down time, but it’s healthier when it’s built into their routine.

    Five things to consider:

    1. Let teens participate in decisions about summer plans.  It’s okay to insist that your teen do some things over summer, but value their input and work on it together.  Some parents make a list of options and then invite their teen to choose from the list.
    2. Work together on a strategy for how to structure time.  It may make sense to organize the summer into thirds: one-third productive time in which your teen is involved in something that has a net result (for older teens this might include finding a job, volunteering, or an internship); one-third unstructured time in which your teen has to figure out how to fill the time with the caveat that no more than two hours per day may be spent on the internet; and one-third vacation, including time with family.  
    3. Reset the alarm clock for summer instead of turning it off all together.  Encourage your teen to get a consistent 9 hours of good sleep each night.
    4. Keep house rules and curfews.  It’s okay to permit a long night once in awhile, but remember that whatever you give up on a frequent basis will be hard to take back when school starts.
    5. Bring extra attention to your emotional relationship with your teen.  Right now social emotional wellness is paramount for you and your teen.  To the degree possible intentionally listen well, connect and validate your teens feelings before correcting behavior, and model the behavior you seek from them.