It’s Hard Being A Teenager, Say Scientists

I remember a time when Britain was, perhaps, no longer “Great”, but at least it was sane and sensible. Then I left, to live in America.

Now, I’m not suggesting the old country went downhill just because it lost one of its favorite sons to the colonies, but there’s no doubt sanity and commonsense have become rarities in modern Merrie England, just as they have on this side of the pond.

Only a few weeks ago I wrote of Dr Brian Primack from Pittsburgh University, who was obsessed with the idea that sex became irresistible to teenagers who listened to lots of rap music with randy lyrics.[1] Now, the nutty scientist syndrome has crossed the pond, and we have Russell Foster, a neuroscientist from Brasenose College, Oxford, telling us teenagers should not begin lessons until 11 am, as their brains work better in the afternoon.

According to Professor Foster, head of circadian neuroscience (that’s a fancy name for sleep study) at the college, teenager’s brains are wired differently from those of adults and work two hours behind adult time.[2]

He then goes on to blame the rest of us for “making teenagers the way they are” by forcing them to get out of bed at a reasonable hour and do a bit of work.

I’m not sure if Professor Foster ever was, himself, a teenager, or maybe he was a young nerd who never went partying, courting, or generally whooping it up, after school or college. Perhaps, he just arrived on Earth by flying saucer at the age of eighty-six?

Someone needs to point out to him that teenager’s brains don’t function well before 11 am because they’re clogged with all the booze and marijuana consumed by their owners the night before, coupled with humping the current girlfriend/boyfriend from midnight till four in the morning.

Neither is this phenomenon specific to teenagers. While grade-school kids are less likely to be comatose in the morning due to reasons related above, (though with certain kids on my school bus all three factors may be relevant) kids generally don’t get enough sleep these days. Most have TVs and computers in their bedrooms, and parents are generally lax in ensuring their offspring are in bed and asleep by a reasonable hour.

The sweet, bleary-eyed, little angels I drive to school each morning bear no resemblance to the brood of Beelzebub’s offspring that assail the school bus for the home run in the afternoon. Yelling, screaming, fighting, throwing school bags around, and generally behaving like a pack of wild baboons on the rampage, these creatures, shot full and high from artificial sweeteners and sugar, are not even related to the little dears happily dozing in their seats at 8.00 o’clock that morning.

Professor Foster has teamed up with Dr Paul Kelley, a school principal from Monkseaton High School in the county of North Tyneside, England. Dr Kelley wants his school governors to adjust lesson times to take account of Professor Foster’s findings.

Last year, Doctor Kelley carried out his own research by giving students three, 20 minute long science lessons interspersed with ten minutes of physical activity, before making them sit an examination. Prior to the lessons, the students had not covered any of the General Certificate of Secondary Education science syllabus, yet amazingly, results showed the students scored up to 90% in the GCSE examination paper.

The finding could revolutionize education in Britain. If Dr Kelley’s conclusions are correct, students need only attend school for an hour and a half per subject, before sitting and passing all the examinations necessary to assure them places at the most prestigious universities, where they’ll enroll for a day, achieve their degrees and move on to become top ranking politicians, doctors, idiot circadian neuroscientists, and mentally retarded school principals.

Presumably, during the ten minutes of physical activity, teenager’s brains are able to pluck the knowledge right out of the ether. Or, a more plausible theory, and one shared with the vast majority of British teachers, is that the GCSE examinations have now become so ridiculously easy that kids are able to pass them without doing any work at all.

Of course, that’s a different subject, and yet another chapter in the long saga of declining sanity and commonsense effecting the western world.

[1] “Seriously?” Sparrow Chat, February 24th 2009

[2] “Head urges lie-ins for teenagers” BBC, March 9th 2009

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5 Replies to “It’s Hard Being A Teenager, Say Scientists”

  1. I did pick up on the GCSE thing, and thought that the only conclusion you could come to is that the exam *is* so much easier than it used to be!

    (hey, the whole GCSE syllabus was so easy that when I took it, I did pretty much no revision, and, for my history exam, actually revised the wrong paper (we had English and European History a week apart, and I got them muddled on my timetable), found out half an hour before the exam, and still came out with an A (7As and 3A*s altogether). The experience totally screwed me for A Levels, as I assumed they’d be just as easy!)

    However, I can relate to the two hour time shift – having not done any sort of drugs (I was even pretty much tee-total till I got to uni, and even then, I drank less over my whole time there than some of my fellow students did in a weekend!), and not having a boyfriend to shag, my body clock did shift when I didn’t have to get up for school / lectures / work. Not due to laziness, but because my brain functionned better in the afternoon and evening – I wrote most of my best essays at uni after midnight.

  2. Well, well, well – it’s a miracle that any of us ever managed to get through our exams then isn’t it, being forced out of our beds at such early hours.

    I had to walk almost a mile to the railway station, take a 20 minute train ride, walk another half mile at the other end to Grammar School, then start lessons at 9am. I managed to pass every GCE exam I took – 7 subjects.

    The kind of “education” those students will receive (20 minute lessons etc. before the exams) might provide superficial results, but it won’t train the brain. It won’t work for all subjects either.

    The purpose of what we are put through at school, in my opinion, is to train the brain to use itself, not to learn how to repeat, parrot fashion, a set of facts.
    Training is slow and gradual, as in physical training.

    Seems as though the Old Country is going down the tubes fast, RJ!

  3. Jo – thanks for your comment. From my recollections of teenage-hood, I was rarely in bed before midnight (once I’d escaped from parental laws) and seemed to function better by rising late and being an ‘evening’ or ‘night’ person. That stayed with me well into my thirties, or even forties. In fact, it wasn’t until I came to America, where rising with the dawn is the norm (at least, in the Heartlands) that I was forced to change my old habits. I’m not sure it had anything to do with teenage brain-wiring, though, more an enthusiasm for life with lots of youthful energy to support it.

    Twilight – E’ee by ‘eck, lass, when I were a lad I’d ride four mile ter school on me bike each day, an’ think nuttin’ o’ it. An’ git up a’ five in’t mornin’ ter deliver t’ papers…..

    I agree with you about the poor results achieved by a ‘forced cramming of facts’. If I were on the school board, I’d be asking for that principal’s resignation.

    Yes, ‘down the tubes’ is an apt description, I think. But then, Britain’s two finest minds are in America now. 😉

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