Vamping teens didn't invent staying up all night, but it's still pretty dumb

Jul 7, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. ET
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Reports of a teen trend called vamping have parents worked up, but is staying up late really all that new?

Ask any teenager at 7 a.m. on a school morning if they like sleeping, and the answer is going to be a resounding yes. Ask a teen at 10 p.m.? Not so much. Despite plenty of evidence to suggest that sleep benefits school performance, health and mood, teens habitually go out of their way to avoid going to bed at a decent time. And it's nothing new.

Parents know a lot about lack of sleep

When I was a teenager, we had an enormous personal computer in the hallway by the kitchen. Even if I'd tried to sneak online after bedtime, my mom and dad would have heard the screeching-cat sound of the modem trying to connect to AOL. I didn't have Facebook or Tumblr or a smartphone. But I still stayed up all night — reading books. Short of removing every lightbulb from my room, there wasn't much my parents could have done to stop me.

I asked a few moms about their late night high school habits. Diane, a mom of three from Florida, says she would try to stay up all night talking on the phone or playing on AOL with her friends without getting caught. "We were obviously huge rebels," she says.

Jean, a mom of four from Indiana, says she stayed up all night in high school regularly. "I pulled all-nighters for fun then, and I still do occasionally. Once or twice a month. Sometimes I just need a big chunk of time to myself."

Other moms reported going on late-night drives, hanging out at slumber parties and watching reruns. In short — today's teens aren't doing anything revolutionary by gluing themselves to tiny screens all night. And they're not the only ones doing it. College students, professionals — and yeah, parents — are staying up later than they should. My adult adventures in vamping usually involve binge-watching Netflix, squinting at my Kindle and deeply regretting my life choices when the alarm goes off.

We should be sleeping by example

Just because we did — and continue to do — something pretty stupid, doesn't mean teens' habits should go unchecked. Social media allows teens to get a lot stealthier about staying up. A kid just needs a thick comforter and a smartphone to chat in silence with dozens of friends. If you spend more than 10 minutes on Tumblr, you'll find plenty of teens bragging about being online in the middle of the night. The social aspect makes staying up more appealing. Snapchat is the virtual bridge everyone is jumping from. Even as an adult, I get it. I've stayed up way past my bedtime checking Facebook notifications and glancing at Twitter one more time.

Better habits should probably start with you, Mom. Turn off the wireless router at night if you have to. Stick everyone's phones — including your own — in a communal box at bedtime. Use traditional alarm clocks and make your own late-night shenanigans a foundation to talk about sleep deprivation with your kids. You can bond over the fact that you fell asleep on your keyboard at work. Then you can make a pact to try to get at least one more hour of sleep a night. And while you're at it, you can ban goofy phrases like "vamping."

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