Why teen brains need a later school start time

According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter (July 2005) everyday unhappiness reaches its peak in late adolescence. There are a number of explanations for this. Parents are more important than peers for the pre-adolescent boy. As he approaches adolescence, he begins to change allegiance and seeks to connect with his peers. Adolescents explore their independence, test the limits and break the rules. They rebel against their parents but remain reliant on their care and support. Frustration with the older generation is common. “They don’t understand me!”

This is not because of an undeveloped intellect. Studies show that abstract reasoning, memory and the ability to plan effectively are fully developed by the age of 15 or 16. Adolescents struggle with something else, their emotions. Their decisions are often overwhelmed by the urge to seek new sensations, new thrills and experiences. These urges produce the currency for peer acceptance and status.

Puberty begins to reshape the human brain, with the production of a cocktail of hormones, a process completed in the early 20s. These hormones cause teenagers to respond differently to reward stimuli. They are hypersensitive to novel experiences and are especially at risk to addictive substances. The production of testosterone increases tenfold in teenage boys resulting in turmoil in the romantic love department. This hormone “overload” also changes the clock settings in the adolescent brain. He stays awake late into the night and struggles to wake in the morning. Studies show that adolescents are generally sleep deprived because school starts too early for them and sleep is associated with health and wellbeing. That is why Hamilton House starts its classes at 09:00. For those who can cope with an early start support is available from 07:30.