The Skeptical Methodologist

Software, Rants and Management

CaffeinatedChildren

NPR’s Morning Addition sounded the nanny alarm this morning, filing it under ‘caffeine scares’. The piece bemoaned a new caffeine delivery system, a small breath-freshener like patch one places on the tongue, and then tried to drum up a ragtag team of support from sleep therapists to the classic Lovejoy “Think of the children!”

Slow news day.

This is on the feet of the American Academy of Pediatrics over-reach involving the same energy drinks. Don’t get me wrong: most kids probably don’t need energy drinks. But then again, most adults probably don’t need them either. Allowing individual consumers access to certain goods based solely on need is something the Medical Profession has gotten used to, but safety concerns aside, it’s a market killer. So long are the goods are relatively safe, who are we to deny someone their energy drink? The only justification a consumer ought to need is that they like the taste.

What really got under my skin regarding the NPR story, though, is an attempt to blame ‘big caffeine’ for our tired students. Leftist Luddites love to reminisce about the ‘good old days’ as much as rightist Luddites do, but instead of blaming a breakdown of morals or some other such nonsense, leftists like to bring in evil corporations as the source of all that irks us today. “It’s sugar and caffeine and technology and texting that keep our kids up these days!” they’d whine, “Kids need sleep, we have no idea what the consequences of these newfangled gadgets and chemicals will do to them!”

Only we know exactly what sleep deprivation does to kids. We’ve been doing it for well over a century now. Kids seeking out caffeine is an attempt to self medicate, not the problem itself. It’s like blaming anti-biotics for an ear infection. The fact is that now, and in the past, schools start absurdly early, especially for growing brains which we know tend to have delayed sleeping schedules quite naturally. I’m not going to out myself as a Tea-Partier here, I think the government does a lot of good. But our kids being tired all the damn time? That’s the government’s fault.

A few schools have trialed pushing back start times to something reasonable for adults, an even smaller minority have tried something reasonable for kids. While I haven’t seen any large scale results in yet, it’s about what you’d expect. Tardiness drops, absenteeism drops, test scores go up. Why wouldn’t they? For the first half of the usual school day (which I might remind you in many places starts at 7am, requiring kids to be up as early as 5:30am), Kids are basically zombies – the more alert ones smart enough to drink a before-mentioned energy drink. Around lunch they come out of the fuzz. Moving back start times more or less doubles the effective school day and halves the pain. Hell, even if schools did nothing (which I’m not convinced they’re all that effective as is) simply allowing kids to sleep on their normal schedules would increase test scores, regardless of whatever worksheet their being tasked to fill in the blanks for today.

Corporations aren’t preying on children. They’re filling a much needed gap created by nonsense government decisions, primarily driven by momentum and bureaucracy. After all, why wouldn’t schools start so absurdly early? They always have. Let’s not let new findings about adolescent and child sleep psychology change what we know kinda sorta half-assed works. Instead, let’s just blame evil corporations.

June 6, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. Well corporations are a nice easy target. They don’t necessarily have a child’s best interest at heart, they make lots of money, it’s easier to spot them in a crowd, etc. It is far easier to pursue a symptom than the cause of a disease. Are corporations blameless? Don’t make me laugh! Is the true problem a complex set of loops of cause and effect involving various players and multi-levels? Absolutely. So yes, your skepticism and rant are right on; but what I am more interested in is how to approach a problem that has no single solution (such as caffeinated children). There must be reasons that starting school at later times has not been embraced universally. Even if one were to find each reason invalid or far out weighed by benefits, there are still the reasons behind why each of those reasons have been used. At the very least, you can not turn the hands of time backwards; so even if the original cause of the problem was uprooted there are the aftershocks (such as now children have developed a habit for caffeine) the waves of effects that the original problem occurred in the first place. Theoretically, I am left pondering and I can only think such things can only be dealt with at a local, personal level. Perhaps local interventions build up to become an observable global event the way mindless ants synchronize to forge for food or build their empires. Off course, that seems to let the “heartless” and easy target corporations off the hook. It is quite a scary thing for people to take enough time to stop pointing fingers and do their “ant’s share.” No one likes uncertainty, nor having a finger pointing back to them!

    Comment by Lyxnlion | June 10, 2011 | Reply


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