In a technical report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) last month, chronic sleep loss among middle and high school students was cited as a “serious threat to academic success.” There are many contributing factors to a generation of sleepyheads—among them increased caffeine consumption and the use of electronic devices, whose low-intensity light can disrupt circadian rhythms and suppress melatonin production. The AAP study outlines that one key contributor could be best manipulated to help alleviate this problem: later school start times.


Beside extending sleep duration, this delay would have significant positive effects on self-reported sleepiness and academic achievement, says the Academy. But according to a U.S. Department of Education 2011-12 survey, of the 18,000 high schools in America, less than 15% start at 8:30 a.m. or later, and more than 40% start before 8 a.m.


Dr. Bob Weintraub, headmaster of Brookline High School in Massachusetts from 1992 to 2011 and now professor of educational leadership at Boston University, says that during his tenure the high school moved start times for most students to 8:30 a.m. But he also points out that these shifts raise concerns like how to have maximum participation in after-school activities like athletics, drama, and music when later start times means later end times (which means in the dark during winter months in the Northeast).


Despite these challenges, the AAP argues that communities nationwide have been creative in coming up with solutions to this challenge, including providing free periods and study halls at the end of the day, exempting student athletes from PE, and installing lights for athletic fields.


In sum, the Academy “strongly supports the efforts of school districts to optimize sleep in students and urges high schools and middle schools to aim for start times that allow students the opportunity to achieve optimal levels of sleep and to improve physical and mental health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life.”

As every adolescent knows, trying to “be cool” is the utmost priority. Whether you want to be a rebel without a cause or a mean girl, certain things never change. However, new research out of the University of Virginia claims that the effect of being cool is short-lived. In fact, “cool” teens were more likely than their peers to face certain issues as early adults.

Following teens from age 13 to age 23, researchers collected information from the teenagers themselves, as well as their parents and teachers. Many of the behaviors that led individuals to think others were cool were socially mature behaviors. Teens who were involved in dating relationships, those who engaged in delinquent activity, and those who hung out with physically attractive people were considered popular by their peers at age 13. However, by age 22, those same individuals were rated by their peers as being less competent at managing social relationships.

Those who were cool at 13 were also more likely to have addiction issues and engage in criminal activity as they aged. According to researcher Joseph P. Allen, PhD, the behaviors that made teens appear cool in early adolescence had to become more and more extreme in order to be seen as cool as they aged, leading to more serious criminal behavior and alcohol and drug abuse. By the time cool teens reached adulthood, their more extreme behaviors were no longer seen as cool, but instead led others to think they were less competent and, thus, less cool.

The full study appears online in Child Development.
Researchers at Northwestern University Medical School have suggested that depression in teens could be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Their study, published in the April 17, 2012 issue of Translational Psychiatry, identifies 11 biomarkers for early-onset major depressive disorder—one of the most common yet debilitating mental illnesses among young people. If the results are confirmed in larger populations, diagnosis could become a much simpler process, and one that might help teens avoid some of the stigma currently associated with a depression diagnosis.

Early-onset major depressive disorder is a serious mental illness that affects mainly teenagers and young adults. Although 2 to 4% of cases are diagnosed before adolescence, the numbers increase dramatically to 10-25% with adolescence, according to lead researcher Eva Redei, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Not diagnosed, depression affects how teens relate to others. The No. 1 cause of death among the depressed is suicide,” explained Redei in a recent interview with CNN. “If teens are depressed and not treated, there can be drug abuse, dropping out of school. Their whole lives can depend on these crucial and vulnerable years.”

In the study, researchers tested the blood of 28 teens, ages 15 to 19. Fourteen had been diagnosed as depressed, and the others were healthy. The researchers examined a panel of 28 markers that circulate in the blood; results showed that 11 of these markers could, with a high degree of accuracy, predict major depression in the subjects. Depression is currently diagnosed through psychological evaluations conducted by health care providers.

A blood test to diagnose depression could help reduce the stigma associated with this mental illness and help depressed teens to get the treatment and support they need. For many teens who are too embarrassed to ask for help, this blood test could be a huge step in the right direction. “Once you have a measurable index of an illness, it’s very difficult to say, ‘Just pull yourself together,’ or ‘Get over it,’” Redei explained recently to the Los Angeles Times.

Others are cautious in their response to the study. Dr. Lloyd Sederer, medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health, suggests that this study could give parents and teens false hope about treatment. “When something like this comes out and gets a lot of attention, it’s a false promise to parents, because it’s nowhere ready for prime time,” he said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “Some of the risks have not been considered yet. And does it really shape, in any way, how effective your treatment is going to be now?”

What do you think? In what ways could a diagnostic blood test for depression affect treatment for your clients? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!