Question:

I have a sixteen-year-old boy who would just about spend all day in bed if I let him. He claims he needs twelve to fifteen hours of sleep each day, but I think something else is going on. Any advice?

Answer:

During a child's growth spurt, their bodies do need more sleep, but typically we are talking about an hour more per day than an adult, or a little over nine hours according to a study done by E.P. Bradley Hospital Sleep Research Laboratory. Teenagers sometimes appear to sleep half the day away because their internal clock shifts, making it hard for them to fall asleep in the evening, and then they sleep in later in the morning if given a chance to wake up on their own. Determine if your boy is actually sleeping twelve to fifteen hours or only appears to be sleeping that long because he is staying up into the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes this is the first warning sign that a parent gets that a son is getting involved in pornography or other deviant behaviors.

Twelve to fifteen hours on most days is excessive and indicates a problem. It could be simple laziness or it could be something more complex such as depression. Depression can be triggered by mental conditions, such as gloom over recent events. Elijah is an example of this in I Kings 19. Depression can also be caused by medical problems, such as a gland not function properly. It can also be chemically induced, such as a by-product of a drug being abused.

If you have the least doubts, have your boy check over by a physician, letting the doctor know in advance what the problem is. Ask that drug screening be included in the exam.

If there isn't a physical basis for excessive sleep, then it is either mental depression or laziness. "Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger" (Proverbs 19:15). Fortunately, the solution to both the problems is the same: insisting that the person get up and get working. In Elijah's case, he was told that he had several duties to perform -- duties that took him from one end of Israel to another. They weren't simply "make-work" duties either, they had importance. It might take a bit of searching and creative thinking, but find something that your son would be willing to do, that is going to consume his time. If he doesn't have a job, insist that he start volunteer work somewhere -- if nothing else, the volunteer work will give him some work experience. In other words, give him a reason to get up in the morning, whether it is earning money or helping Mabel down the street paint her fence. Males especially have a strong built-in desire to be needed, so use it to your advantage.

The Scriptures warn about the lazy wanting excessive sleep:

"How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep - so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man" (Proverbs 6:9-11).

"Do not love sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with bread" (Proverbs 20:13).

It is a part of a parent's duty to teach their child not to be lazy. One day they are going to be on their own and they will need to motivate themselves to work even though they don't feel like it that day. You, as a parent, can help them establish this good habit while they are still young.

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