Schools of cool

Meher MarfatiaWho can disagree? Nothing bonded young people more passionately than the World Cup. To feed the fervour, a Mazgaon school sportingly re-jigged its routine around the final game last week. It announced a slower Monday morning start, allowing ardent fans to snooze post-match.

They could attend assembly two hours after the regular bell ring. Way to go, whooped the old boy network already viral with football fever. Wow, how cool, their wistful sisters sighed. The principal proudly stated he was sure students came to class more enthused for the leeway given.

This may or may not be a stray instance of tweaking timetables to suit the logic of leisure. Last year, a Kandivli school was willing to switch the schedule long-term. It wanted children to shore up sufficient sleep, carry home-cooked lunch and enjoy bonus morning moments for hobbies or homework. But the plan to push back by a couple of hours beyond the usual 7 am drill backfired. Parents launching a signature campaign against the move did have a valid protest point or two. Those from nuclear families, who dropped children to school before rushing to office, said they had nowhere to keep the kids.

The jury’s yet out there. Still, let’s accept the adolescent mind plays and rests very differently. It has to. The faster we figure this the more peace with Gen Next. In the US, a Start School Later movement is backed by educators and economists. Their view, that extra early mornings are unhealthy, counterproductive and incompatible with adolescent needs, isn’t just psychobabble. Clear physical factors are at work. Personally, it’s been worth the while finding these out.

I used to get shocked, even shrill, seeing my kids laze in bed on holidays. All mutter and moan, fret and frazzle did was spoil our rapport, roil us in tension. Both sides high on hormones, we ticked on madly mismatched body clocks. They channelled the Rip Van Winkle in them. I shouted that hopeless, hollow line everyone in parentdom parrots: “At your age we didn’t dare do this!” At their age we weren’t as brazen or brilliant, as stretched or stressed either.

We rode the storm though. With me calmed down on discovering some strands of the story behind their mercurial moods, their motives, their mojo.

Reading and reasoning, I realised... That the pineal gland of the teen brain doesn’t respond to light and dark as in an adult — the sleep promoting hormone, melatonin, releases closer to evening than in an older brain and its levels stay elevated into the morning hours.

That we need to heed reports of basic brain maturing fibres and functions. Axons and neurons evolve steadily through 20 to 25 years. Till the frontal lobe fully forms, to make the impossible teenager morph into a well adapted adult. That social scientists link later mornings with peaked energies and academic performance, lowered impulsiveness, depression, tardiness and truancy.

That compromise isn’t a sell-out. Understanding them doesn't mean falling in with terrible teen whims and whines. It’s about building boundaries, trying trust. Knowing when to rein in, when to release. ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff' is quite the motto. I cringe to think why I didn’t fix on following it earlier. Blame it on those brain lobes I knew little about.

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens. Reach her at:

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