Blog: Tired of Fighting My Teen to Wake Up in the Morning

Susan Stiffelman

It’s almost impossible to wake my 17-year-old son up for school. He says that he wants my help getting up, but in the mornings, I have to threaten to leave without him to get him moving. We leave the house angry and out of sorts. How can I get him out of bed without having these daily battles?

The adolescent brain would be much happier if school started at ten or eleven in the morning (if at all!). Instead of falling asleep at a reasonable hour that lets teens wake up cheerful and rested, many get their second wind at 10:00 p.m., staying up late and waking up cranky and out of sorts.

Here’s my advice:

• Find wake up alternatives. Many kids tune out a well-meaning parent’s efforts to get them to rise and shine, going back to sleep over and over. Others find it jarring to awaken to the piercing buzz of an alarm, launching them out of bed in a foul mood. Perhaps your son wants to waken to music; easy enough these days with alarm clocks that work off an iPod. Or he may want to gradually wake up with a clock that slowly introduces light into the room. Encourage your son to look for ways to awaken that aren’t dependent on you.

• Give him a problem. If you are the only one who cares whether your son wakes up on time, you are going to come across as desperate and needy each morning. Instead, help him identify reasons for getting up on time that matter to him, so that he sees you as an ally who helps when he’s struggling with grogginess, rather than an enemy who is yanking him out of his warm and cozy bed.

• Rule out other issues. Teens who are depressed find it difficult to get motivated to go to school. Those who are anxious may want to hide under the covers where they feel safe. And kids who are using alcohol, pot or other substances can also demonstrate significant difficulties with rolling out of the bed in the morning. Make sure your son is legitimately tired, and that there are no other factors influencing his sluggishness.

• Don’t fuel the drama. The less you take your son’s behavior personally, the better able you’ll be to deal with him calmly. When kids are foggy and irritable, they to lash out at those they love. Don’t engage with him or defend yourself when he’s trying to blame you for his difficulties getting up. It will only make things worse.

• Don’t talk too much! A sleepy adolescent is not capable of intelligent conversation or thoughtful reflection. Avoid reminding your son how foolish it was to stay up late the night before. Give up on having a meaningful discussion about how to make the mornings go more smoothly. While it will be important to strategize a new plan, the time do that is not when he’s rushed, angry, or barely able to function.

• Wake up his brain. Play some loud rock and roll to help your son get out of his sleepy state. Offer him a protein shake or a few bites of breakfast to help give him a jump start. Some kids need nourishment to help them get moving in the morning when they haven’t eaten since the evening before.

• Let go. Some parents have discovered that until their youngster suffers the consequences of sleeping through the alarm, they simply won’t make the effort to wake up on their own. Let your son know in advance that you are no longer willing to engage in power struggles with him in the morning, and that you will try once to wake him up and then he’s on his own. Missing the bus or having to walk because you’ve left for work may be what it takes for him to start taking responsibility for waking up without relying on you.

While you can require a younger teen to shut off his computer and hand in his cell phone, at seventeen, your son is nearly an adult who may soon be out on his own. Help him move toward independence by taking responsibility for waking up, offering support but relinquishing control.