It is 4 a.m. Do you know where your teenager is? Thankfully I do. My fifteen-year-old daughter is at home where she should be. However, that does not necessarily mean that she is asleep. During summer vacation, she can become a vampire. Therefore, at 4 a.m. she could still very well be awake, quietly in her room doing stuff. I do not know exactly what stuff she is doing. I have a feeling I probably do not want to know. She is likely on line, along with many of her friends, with a half dozen chat windows going. This seems to be her main use of her computer when she is awake, so most likely she is doing the same thing after hours.
Maybe this is a modern form of peer pressure. There must be some new requirement that during summer vacation and on weekends trendy teenagers must stay up past midnight, preferably until at least three a.m. I am betting that they are on line sending instant messages to each other specifically to encourage each other to stay awake. After all, dawn is only a few hours away.
I know I should not let it bother me. Since we are on the third summer of this peculiar behavior for the most part it does not bother me. Yet I still find it weird. It seems unnatural. When it is dark outside my melatonin levels naturally rise. It is unusual for me to stay awake past midnight. Generally, I am in bed by ten o’clock on weeknights, and eleven o’clock on weekends. Similarly, when it is light outside I tend to be awake. I find that sleeping in past eight a.m. is difficult. Because I sometimes need more sleep than I get, I compensate by wearing blinders in the morning. While it helps, I still sense the daylight. Invariably I am the first one to bed and the first one awake.
My wife has night owl tendencies. Since she is no longer tethered to a 9 to 5 job she is often to bed between midnight and 1 a.m. By this time, I have been asleep for hours. I usually do not even register her coming to bed. For my daughter, midnight can be more like the dinner hour. In fact, she will sometimes tip toe downstairs for a midnight snack. I find her evidence in the morning.
Last summer I was the parent on call to get my daughter to the doctor for a 3 p.m. appointment. I, the good dutiful father, left her a note on our kitchen table reminding her that I would be home around 2:30 p.m. so please be ready. I arrived at home to find the house deathly quiet. Where was my daughter? I called for her several times and got no answer. I figured she had gone to a friend’s house and did not bother to tell us, a serious offense. I started to look up the phone numbers of her favorite friends in the neighborhood. Then I noticed that her door was closed. I knocked on her door. The blinds were drawn. She was still deeply asleep.
I understand that this kind of behavior with teens is not unusual. My wife does not give it a second’s thought. “She’s a teenager,” she says, as if that is the answer to all questions about my daughter. Teenagers are supposed to do things that weird their parents out, and this was a minor thing. She could be smoking dope or having premarital sex. Conclusion: I should count my blessings.
Yeah, yeah, maybe so. I realize that she is fifteen. I realize at her age micromanagement is counterproductive. I realize we need to set flexible boundaries. However, isn’t there a reasonable limit? Can we not insist that even during summer vacations there is a bedtime? Isn’t midnight a reasonable bedtime during the summer? Can I not demand that ten a.m. is late enough for anyone her to sleep in? To me her behavior not only seems unnatural, it seems bizarre.
I also realize that it is dangerous to project my habits on other people. Some people are naturally night owls. My daughter may be one of these creatures. However, it was not always this way. For much of her childhood she happily went to bed on time. Things changed subtly during her middle school years. By the time high school arrived, her body had morphed. When opportunity arose, she became a vampire.
In June, it reached the absurd stage. She said she had insomnia; she had tried to go to sleep but could not. I tried to shuffle her off to school anyhow. “But I didn’t get any sleep,” she whined. “If I go to school I will just sleep at my desk.” She informed me that she could not function at school. Since there was less than two weeks of school left, I cut her some slack. Nevertheless, I suspected that if she had not been up until 2 or 3 a.m. the night before she would not have had insomnia in the first place.
In a way, I am happy that she has elected to go to summer school. As a consequence she must be up around 6 a.m. For a while, it is impossible for her to maintain her weird summer sleep schedule. Now during the week she is more likely to be asleep between 11 p.m. and midnight. Alas, summer school does not last forever. It is only four weeks long. So I can anticipate more weeks of vampire mode ahead.