Letting kids sleep later could cut down on teen crime, Rutgers study says
New Jersey education officials are expected to soon give more details about a pilot program that will push back the start of classes at five yet-to-be named high schools to 8:30 a.m.
Supporters say this will better align schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, and that should result in students getting more sleep and better grades. But a new study finds there may be other benefits as well.
Rutgers University-Camden criminal justice Dan Semenza, author of “School Start Times, Delinquency, and Substance Abuse: A criminological perspective,” says delayed school start times may also help teens avoid legal problems.
He said if students are better rested there is a good chance they’ll be less likely to participate in fights, abuse drugs or get involved in other criminal activity.
“More sleep has been linked to better self control, better impulse control, and having more self control really decreases that risk for delinquency," he said.
He stressed “more sleep is going to impact some of those things that we really think matter for delinquency.”
In other words, getting more sleep will help teens to not react in a way that’s aggressive or impulsive.
A teen might be in a store and have an impulse to shoplift, he said. But a better-rested teen with more impulse control is more likely to resist the urge, he said.
He also noted if you start the school day later, it will end later, and that means less time for afternoon mischief amid "unstructured socializing" — in other words, "hanging out."
He stressed “when you’re sleep-deprived you’re just more likely to be more irritable, you’re more likely to fight back or maybe be more aggressive, and you could see how that would matter for a kid getting into trouble.”
He said later school start times could actually become a delinquency-fighting strategy, so “we will watch very carefully to see what happens with this pilot program.”
During his last term in office Gov. Chris Christie directed the Department of Education to conduct a study to look at the issue of later school starting times. Many school districts indicated they were not considering changing starting schedules because of concerns about coordinating after-school activities with other schools, and parents' work schedules being disrupted for pick up and drop off times.
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