The pineal gland is tiny. Wedged between both hemispheres of your brain, it may be small, but it has a huge impact on society – especially, on teenagers. That’s because it manufactures melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep. When the pineal gland manufactures more melatonin, you get sleepy.
But this little gland works differently for teens. Kids aged 15 to 17 naturally want to stay up late and sleep in mornings because their melatonin cycles start and end later than those of people older and younger than they are. As you probably knew or guessed, the melatonin cycle is triggered by light, or at least a lack of it. For our ancestors who lived without electric lighting, their pineal glands would produce more melatonin after the sun set, then produce less when the sun came up. But not every part of the light spectrum triggers this cycle. Specifically, it is the absence of blue light that makes the body think that it wants to go to sleep.
Unhappily for teens, blue light is exactly the shade that computer screens and cell phones radiate the most. The more glued you are to your screen, the less sleepy you’re going to feel. Especially if you’re a teen. The e-world has robbed teenagers of night.
Now everyone knows a 16-year-old likes to stay up late. And a lot of places are uncomfortable with teenagers roaming their streets at night. American cities such as Denver and Philadelphia have been known to impose curfews, mandatory bedtimes, for teens. New York City has set up a midnight basketball programs, thinking that if you get teens off the streets, they’re less likely to break into homes.
But teen curfews never reduce crime. Adult criminality peaks at 10 p.m. Teenagers may be up and about at this hour, but they aren’t nearly as violent, say statistics cited by the magazine The Economist.
Nope, your average teenager is most ornery, most violent, and most prone to break the law right after school lets out. Crimes by and against young people peak in the hour right after their final class bell has rung. In the United States, the rates of teen violence in the hour after school are 5 times what they are after 10 p.m. Teens are full of energy, wound up after a long day studying, and in a crappy mood.
After-school detention isn’t that crazy an idea. Nor are community centres, dance schools, sports teams meeting right after school. In fact, any constructive activity that takes place in the late afternoon is good for society. A study from UCLA found that kids who took part in after-school programs were less likely to commit crimes even 11years later.
Don’t worry too much about night time teens. Worry about night owl adults. And help out programs that give high schoolers a chance to work out their after-school energies positively. Like the Café Graffiti, and other community groups featured in the pages of The Social Eyes.