Again With Seminary Start Times

Last year, Angela wrote an important post about the problems with seminary starting so early.

I was reminded of her post because (a) my kids started school today, and (b) I read this article on teenagers, early start times, and sleep deprivation yesterday.

FWIW, the article doesn’t say anything new that Angela didn’t already bring up. But largely, schools are ignoring the more-irrefutable-by-the-day research and keeping the same early start times they’ve had since time immemorial (or, at least, since the 90s when I was in high school). And, as far as I know, nothing has changed with the church’s early-morning seminary program, either.

Angela wrote her post out of experience; I write mine out of hope. Because my oldest is still a couple years away from high school, and I hope the local high school (start time: 7:55 am, which is 35 minutes earlier than the AAP recommends) and the church (which has local seminary at some time earlier than that, I assume) can move to best practices before she hits high school.

In Favor of the Status Quo

The author of the Slate article mentioned some of the pushback she got previously when she raised the issue of too-early start times. And I imagine there will be some pushback here, too. I’m going to try to anticipate and refute a couple of the objections:

(1) I did it when I was a kid; these kids should be able to, too. I did early morning seminary in high school, too. 6:00 a.m. at the church, then we drove to school. And I survived. But the thing is, I hope we do things for reasons other than just inertia. When I was a kid, I didn’t hear any conversations about teenagers’ different circadian rhythms and stuff. Now that we know that teenagers need more—and later—sleep, we ought to adjust their schedules in line with that, to the extent practicable.

See, seminary’s not supposed to be a hazing thing. It’s not supposed to be an artificial trial intended to be a gatekeeper to true belonging. According to the church, the purpose of seminary is

to help students understand and rely upon the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families, and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven.

That is, seminary isn’t meant as a trial, or a gatekeeper, or even a marker of identity. It’s meant to help our teenagers better understand and use the Atonement. And for that, sleep deprivation seems like an impediment, not a help.

(2) God can give them energy. I have no doubt that’s true. But I also have very little doubt that He won’t. I mean, if He created us with circadian rhythms, why would He want to shift them just for scheduling convenience? It seems more likely to me that we ought to use our reason and inspiration to create a schedule that meets the bodies He’s given us.

(3) Sacrifice brings blessings. A couple thoughts on this. First, sure, why not? But you know what? Seminary requires sacrifice whether it happens at 6:00 am or at 8:00 pm. Either way, the kids are giving up something else that they could be doing at that time. So changing the start time of seminary doesn’t remove the sacrifice it entails.

But also, the sacrifice of getting up too early and being sleep-deprived has no correlation to the specific blessings that seminary is meant to provide (i.e., increased knowledge of and experience with the Atonement). I mean, if we’re into sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice itself, why not sacrifice, I don’t know, pizza? I mean, giving up pizza would represent a real sacrifice to me, and, while I could be wrong, I’m not aware of anybody saying that the sacrifice of giving up pizza will cause me to be able to better understand and experience the Atonement. (And if anybody does say that, that person is wrong.) I don’t see any causal connection between sleep deprivation and spiritual maturity.

Real Benefits

The benefits of letting our adolescents get the sleep they need doesn’t accrue just to them. The RAND Corporation just released a fascinating report that tries to quantify the economic benefits of later school start times. It estimates that, based on those two things, moving school start times to 8:30 could contribute $83 billion to the economy over the next ten years.

And it bases that increase on two factors: reduced car accidents and increased academic performance. Why reduced accidents? Well, about one-fifth of fatal car crashes involving kids between the ages of 16 and 18 involve a sleep-deprived driver, and car crashes among that cohort decrease significantly by delaying school start times by an hour.

And the later start time would increase the percentage of students who graduate from high school and go to college, increasing their potential lifetime earnings. (Note that RAND doesn’t look at other possible benefits, such as improved mental health.)

Although RAND was looking specifically at school start times, it’s worth noting that the super-early seminary start times are going to present the same negative effects, and making them later will have the same positive repercussions, as delaying school start times. Frankly, there is no compelling argument (other than scheduling simplicity) for early start times for seminary, but there are tremendously compelling arguments for later starts.

How Do We Solve the Problem?

Of course, complaining about early-morning seminary is different from—and easier than—coming up with a solution. After all, there’s not an answer that automatically works for everybody. Swimmers practice in the morning. Rock climbers practice in the afternoon. Actors may have intense schedules for a couple months, and then free time in other months.

Fortunately, Angela offered a couple potential solutions. I’d like to offer a variation on hers.

See, the online option is good in several way. But there are a couple problems. One is, I think the social aspect of seminary is an essential part of students’ learning. After all, if we’re trying to build a Zion society, it’s not about the solitary study of scriptures. It’s about interacting with, and loving, people who may not be much like us—there’s a communal part of the gospel.

Another is, the online instruction needs to be asynchronous. That is, kids need to be able to go to their computers for instruction at their convenience.

So what to do? Well, this semester, I’m teaching in Loyola’s part-time program. And it’s a joint online-in person program–the students meet every other weekend for classes, and do the rest online.

And there’s no reason that seminary couldn’t be run on the same model. With asynchronous instruction, plus in-person meeting at regular intervals,[fn1] students could benefit from sleep, flexibility, and in-person meetings.

[fn1] When? I don’t know. Maybe once a week in the morning; maybe Sundays after church. Maybe some other time.


  1. I’m skeptical the social aspect of seminary offers much most of the time. But in any case those doing home study had a weekly one hour seminary class in the evening back when I did the independent study.

  2. What about just going to bed earlier?
    My kids are in bed at 9:30 for 6:10 am Seminary

  3. Our stake allowed a vote on seminary start times with multiple start times and other options. Almost everybody voted for 6am. I was in total shock.

    Apparently they all thought it was the best time.

  4. Aaron, the research overwhelmingly supports the idea that adolescents’ bodies are set to go to sleep later and to sleep in later. It may be possible for some kids to get to be earlier, but the research indicates that that isn’t as effective, and doesn’t provide the same level of sleep, as allowing adolescents to sleep in later.

    And Bbell, I don’t know how much stock to put into what stake members voted for. First, you don’t say if it was the kids or their parents (the parents may not be aware of, or may not have internalized, current research). Also, it would depend on what start times were offered. I mean, if it’s 6:00 or 7:00 am, and most of the kids’ schools start before 8:00, of course they’re all going to vote for the earlier start time. And if they have afternoon extracurriculars (spoiler alert: they do), they’re not going to vote for an early afternoon time.

    Which is why I propose asynchronous online, supplemented by a limited number of in-person meetings.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    One thought for a joint meeting time would be to just have a seminary meeting during Sunday School. The kids wouldn’t be missing much by substituting the seminary curriculum for the Come, Follow Me curriculum (which is very repetitive anyway).

  6. It was 6am. 7am, 8am, for seniors only and a 430 pm 4 times a week.

    Kids voted and it was almost unanimus for 6am. I was the person in our stake that pushed for the flexibility and was shocked when almost without exception they voted for 6am. It seems that 6am interferes with the least amount of school activities.

  7. Bbell, I largely understand that vote. The kids are optimistic that they’ll be able to get up, and discounting the tiredness they’re going to feel. And they know they have other activities (or school start times) that rule out some of the other times.

    Which is why meeting, say, once a week (6 am once a week probably isn’t the end of the world, sleep-wise, though I really like Kevin’s recommendation), plus well-designed online work that they can do at their convenience (and it could even be scheduled to require them to do a little every day, rather than cramming it all into one day!) strikes me as the best option to (a) pursue the church’s goals with seminary, while (b) recognizing the current state of research with respect to adolescent sleep patterns.

  8. “I mean, if we’re into sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice itself, why not sacrifice, I don’t know, pizza? I mean, giving up pizza would represent a real sacrifice to me, and, while I could be wrong, I’m not aware of anybody saying that the sacrifice of giving up pizza will cause me to be able to better understand and experience the Atonement. ”

    Obviously, this is not the point of your post, but this sentence cracked me up and made me surprisingly nostalgic for my mission in Japan. See, there was a whole thing in my mission called “covenant dendo” (dendo being the japanese word for missionary work). Basically, missionaries would “covenant” to sacrifice something—some gave up 1/2 hour of sleep by getting up earlier, some gave up chocolate, some covenanted to pray for 1/2 hour every day, etc.—and then God was somehow “bound” to bless them with increased baptisms or lessons or something. Many missionaries were convinced this is exactly how covenants work.

  9. As a current ward seminary teacher, I agree. The struggle is real. I think online study plus in-person discussion/review of that week’s material as Sunday School every week should be sufficient (instead of the Come Follow Me Sunday school curriculum, which I dislike anyway). Plus integrate better with Mutual to reinforce concepts in a more active, hands-on way.

    That would require a change in how we approach the youth programs in the church, but I think that’s sorely needed. Bottom line, I think we could easily use the programs we already have more effectively and it could accomplish the end goal better than any of them do right now.

  10. Anon for now says:

    I’m a long-time lurker but rare commenter. Seminary, however, is a hot button topic in our house. We live in Texas in an area where high school starts at 8:45 a.m. and gets out at 4:05 p.m. Once kids/parents/busses fight traffic, kids don’t get home from school until close to 5 p.m. Kids with after school practices don’t get home until around 7:30 or 8. My 15-year-old daughter, as an example, is on the school’s dance team and has dance practice 3 days a week after school from 4:30 to 7:30. By the time she’s home, fed, and does homework, she’s thoroughly exhausted, and it’s well after 9:30 at night. There’s simply no possibility for an early bedtime.

    Despite the fact that seminary could start later here due to a later school start time, seminary still starts at 6 a.m. This is mostly because the students who do marching band, dance, football, soccer, any other sport, all still have to be to school at 7 a.m. to have a before-school practice a few times a week.

    Our stake has tried a 7 a.m. start time for seminary but found that very few, if any, kids even signed up. Kids want to be involved in school, and if it comes down to choosing between (1) an hour of extra sleep and 7 a.m. seminary but no involvement in school activities and (2) 6 a.m. seminary so they can get to school at 7 and still be involved, they almost always choolse option 2. Even if they are miserable and exhausted at 6 a.m.

    I think the real problem with early morning seminary isn’t the time as much as it is the experience. My college-aged daughter didn’t end up graduating from seminary and it had nothing to do with being tired. As a high school freshman, she loved her teacher, loved the other kids in seminary, and loved the learning environemnt. She happily went each morning. We moved to our current location her sophomore year, and the teacher was a very conservative, doom-and-gloom, be-careful-or-you’ll-go-to-hell type and the kids were not friendly with each other. My daughter hated it. She stuck it out that year, but the next year she was bullied by some of the kids and then never went back. We talked to the stake about it, and they didn’t seem to care.

    I don’t have a solution. I’d love to do home study with my kids if our stake would allow it. I’d also love to see an evening class. Mostly, I’d love it if I knew my daughter was there each morning at 6 a.m. with an invested, wise, Christ-centered teacher and a group of kids who support and love one another. I think that happens in some places. Here, it’s a pipe dream.

  11. I’ve never been a morning person, but I did go to early morning seminary all four years and I enjoyed it. That said, I am even less of a morning person now than I was as a teenager, so I’m very grateful that my kids get release-time seminary. My oldest child went all of one day, of course, but if it had been 6 am, she wouldn’t have gone that many times.

    I can see why students wouldn’t opt for an afternoon seminary, as it conflicts with extracurricular activities, and even if you don’t have extracurricular activities, it cuts into time to spend on your homework and free time you can spend with your friends. Since you’d “only” otherwise be sleeping at 6 am, it seems like the least disruptive option.

    I have mixed feelings about the value of the program in general. As I said, I enjoyed seminary (and I didn’t enjoy church otherwise, so that was weird), but I didn’t care that my oldest child didn’t go, and I didn’t have strong feelings about my other kids going, although my older son enjoys it and I think my younger kids will also. It’s going to be important to some kids because their peers are doing it and they don’t want to be different or miss out, but the lack of sleep is a real problem. It isn’t just a matter of going to bed earlier. During marching band season, my son doesn’t get out of practice until 9 pm. He needs some time to unwind before bed (and sometimes to finish his homework). Again, he’s got release-time, so he doesn’t have to choose sleep or seminary. But I wouldn’t blame him for choosing sleep. I would too!

  12. Happy Hubby says:

    “(3) Sacrifice brings blessings” OK, then the parents could probably use some blessings also, so they need to also start attending seminary with their kids each day.

    And I just have to say, the start time where I live is 4:45 and the stake is iron fisted about tardies – even a minute late.

    Before taking a “vote”, I do wish they would ask everyone to watch this documentary.

  13. Thank you for this. I was strongly encouraged by my Mom to go to early morning seminary, in spite of the fact that my school had release time. I still harbor resentment over that. My body made up for it by causing me to fall asleep in second period nearly every day. We knew that forcing my daughter to get up that early would not have any benefit for her, so we haven’t signed her up. She has been struggling with so many aspects of the church, and it would have been nice for seminary to be more accessible and inviting to her. But, like you said, so many view it as more of a test or show of righteousness. Not to mention all of the guilt trippy talks in church about the negative effects that will come in our children’s lives if they don’t attend. But I’m not bitter at all.

  14. I have one child now graduated from online seminary and another in their final year. The online class does in fact include a weekly face to face meeting – for my children this was to join with the early morning class once a week for an hour before youth activities midweek. A win for the early morning class as well, because for that day of the week their class was in the evening not the morning.
    It is my understanding that a weekly face to face class is part of the online program as it already stands.

  15. Anon for now – I wasn’t aware that you had to get permission to do home study seminary. That seems kind of messed up.

  16. I also think replacing “Come Follow Me” with the seminary curriculum is a great idea. One of the things I appreciated about seminary, aside from the social aspect, was that we actually studied the scriptures. In theory, we’re supposed to do that in Sunday school, but the CFM curriculum isn’t really conducive to it.

  17. Happy Hubby says:

    Rebecca – You not only have to ask, but where I am at it is generally rejected unless you have an excuse like “I run cross country and they train in the (relative) cool of the morning. So either allow me to do home study or I guess I am not going to graduate from seminary”. Even for some boys that have 6 AM basketball practice for 2 or 3 days a week, they were denied home study saying they could “make up a few days here and there and still get the 80% attendance required (as long as they missed zero days before the season started).

  18. I’m still in the camp of kids getting themselves to sleep earlier. I have a son (who is no longer a teenager) who can’t get to sleep before 2am. To me, it’s a matter of shifting your day; you need to get up earlier, then work on getting to bed earlier. If you have too many other activities that keep you up later, then it’s your decision on that being a priority over seminary. It’s not “sacrifice”; it’s a choice. Life’s full of them. Instead of whining that it’s too hard, just own the choice you’ve made.

    For the research, I’ve seen a lot of research stating that a later start time would help kids get more sleep, but nothing showing that it has worked in places where it has been done.

    And evidently I need to not post when frustrated by life. :P Kids these days. Get off my lawn!

  19. I love the idea of making seminary home-study. The youth could meet during Sunday school as mentioned. And then meet again a second time in the evening instead of the mutual night (which is mostly social/entertainment anyway). That way they’d be getting two days of classroom instructions a week and have three days of home study a week – all while simplifying the schedule the kids are on. Fun mutual night activities would be for summers and vacations.

  20. I’ve got nothing to say (nothing to add) about seminary or high school start times. But I want to memorialize this wonderful line:
    “God can give them energy. I have no doubt that’s true. But I also have very little doubt that He won’t.”
    It needs to be the subject of a major treatise.

  21. Todd L:
    My mission president actually said in a series of zone meetings “We’re blessed for following mission rules. It therefore stands to reason that if we have more rules, and if we follow them, we will be blessed with even more baptisms.” So he created a crapton of new ones, like “Missionaries waste valuable time waiting for the mail after lunch. So, missionaries should not return to their apartments for lunch, and mail may only be read on P-Day.” There is a definite school of thought that covenants work that way. It would be nice if I could walk into a car dealership and announce “I’m going to pay you $20 a week and you’re going to let me drive this sports car.” What was even worse was when two elders got the idea into their heads that they would do a John the Baptist month and eat nothing but honey and rice to get more baptisms. They didn’t get a single one, and were told that perhaps their worthiness in other areas was lacking. That could mess a guy up something fierce.

    When I was in high school, the seminary teacher generally had a policy that if you brought a non-member, you got an A for that semester. So an evangelical friend of mine would come once a semester, and I’d go to youth group or youth Bible study at his church a couple of times. It was a miserable experience. My own daughter didn’t attend even once – school and volunteer activities would sometimes have her out past 11 PM some school nights. I couldn’t see any good reason to drag her butt out of bed early in the morning just to spend time with the same kids who would torment and bully her the rest of the day.

  22. “I hope we do things for reasons other than just inertia.” We don’t.

  23. Need to take into account drive time to the chapel for some is 20 minutes. Then getting ready and dressing. Then personalities, type A kids want to get in all activities. Type B kids do not care. Are we discounting all these youth type B choices ? Seminary is a program and it is broken. The CES leadership lives in the past and not looking into real people lives. Once all the youth in the mormon corridor have true early morning seminary at 530 am like the rest of us…and have to drive 20 minutes to the chapel, we will have a real conversation. Really…. kids getting up at 445 am is a good thing.?? Early morning seminary where we are is 530 am start time. Teacher then locks door and gives guilt trip if late. Until all GA grandkids are affected with the program and exhausted it will not change. Again LDS culture is 30 years behind.
    I understand a one time sacrifice to get ip early for a long drive for a temple trip….but day after day, year after year is not healthy.

    This seminary program has been the rabbit hole we fell down and now doubt most church programs. The LDS community needs to work with people, families and their needs and scrap these obsolete programs, that is a check list only to report to SLC. Let’s follow Jesus Christ and stop this insanity in lds culture.

    As for social the kids are 1/2 asleep or it just strengthening the pre-existing cliques. There is little learing….its another lds checklist program.

    Solution have seminary during Sunday school time….

  24. I suppose somebody needs to say something for the kids who are different — the introverts, the ones who hate basketball and volleyball, or, in this case, the ones who do best in the morning and don’t do well in the evening. The kids like me.

    I had no trouble getting up early. I had trouble staying up late. My natural clock sent me to bed at 8:30 then, and often still does today. One of the harder features of my mission was staying alert and even being willing to try to be productive during the last hours before we were finally, blessedly, allowed to go home and to sleep.

    So have your kids stay up to ungodly o’clock and sleep in until day’s-a-wasting:30. There are more of you than there are of us. But do be aware that there is probably somebody in your group, somebody who probably doesn’t want to speak up because they’re probably already viewed as weird, who is happiest and most alert at 6:00 in the morning and who might find something else to do with her day rather than waiting around for hours for the slugs to get out of bed and into gear.

  25. Ardis…agree… many personality types and such. Why do we have 19 year old missionaries wake up at 630 am, but ask 14 year olds to wake up at 445 am ?

    The programs are all designed for 1 cookie cutter personality. From my experience the self chosen leadership kids are the ones voting 6 am and then the cycle repeats generation after generation. The rest have no voice or leave the group. I have now observed this pattern repetitvly. The LDS church has created all these problems with their dogma.

  26. I have a friend who was the superintendent of a very large suburban school district. We were discussing high school start times and he confided in me that the start times were driven by school bus availability. The district had only so many buses, so they had to stagger start times between high school, middle school and elementary schools to make the bus schedule work.

    He indicated this is a problem in many, if not most, school districts across the country. He is very aware of the research on start times and the benefits to students of starting later but research can’t stand up to the fiscal realities of transporting students.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    I personally didn’t have a problem getting up for seminary. I had had a paper route, which I had to give up for seminary, but for me I got to sleep in by comparison to what I was used to.

    I learned a lot my first year of seminary. I still recall learning how to use references and learning the difference between the words apocrypha and apocalypse. (My seminary teacher that first year was actually John Hamer’s uncle, believe it or not, so that might tell you something about the substance of those lessons.)

    The next three years we had a woman who was much more social in orientation, but that was fine by me. I went to seminary mainly to spend that extra time with my friends. Learning stuff was low on my to-do list.

    4:45 start time? That’s insane.

    For those of you in areas with unreasonable times or requirements, your greatest leverage is the power to say “no.” I realize that’s a problem if you’re counting on BYU. But if not and the local leaders are being unreasonable (such as that aforesaid 4:45 start time), there’s no law that says you can’t just opt out.

  28. I mean, online seminary IS a thing…

    I don’t know if I’d necessarily call it well-designed (though the pictures are A+ if I do say so myself) but it’s asynchronous and I think the teachers are encouraged to make it so students are doing their work every day instead of cramming it all in at once. But you do have to get stake approval to get a class and people do love their daily seminary.

  29. If it’s all the same with you, Faith, I’d prefer you NOT claim to agree with me, because I vehemently disagree with every damn word you wrote.

  30. I managed to survive high school, but I was an absolute wreck. I would come home and just collapse. On many occasions they would wake me up for dinner and I would refuse to eat because I’d rather sleep. I’d finally get up at 7 or 8 pm, eat a grilled cheese or something, do my homework, and go back to bed at 11 or so. Then up at the crack of dawn for school. We had released time seminary, but you had to take a-hour (aka 0 hour) to make up the credit, so it was basically a wash. My most distinct memories of high school are mostly of being exhausted.
    My stake now actually has a pre-A hour seminary that starts at 5:30 or something. It’s just absurd. Does seminary even need to be daily? My inlaws’ branch only has mutual once a month (yes please!) and somehow the church is still true.

  31. “We’re blessed for following mission rules. It therefore stands to reason that if we have more rules, and if we follow them, we will be blessed with even more baptisms.”

    By that logic, the decision to fulfill the law of Moses, thus replacing it with the gospel, was a real bone-headed move. The missing ingredient in that syllogism is that God blesses us for following HIS commandments, not for following our own made up commandments. (Also, the fact that God chooses the form of our blessings, we don’t, and the form he chooses is often not tangible or quantifiable.)

    God gives us the Holy Ghost when we go through the soul-crushing work of repentance and the soul changing experience of becoming converted by the grace by exercising faith in Christ. Therefore, it stands to reason that if we have more rules to follow on issues that aren’t really related to the work of repentance, we will become distracted from the true work of repentance.

    Maybe this is crazy, but I think if we actually expect them to themselves become converted to the gospel of repentance, and be motivated to work hard out of love/gratitude and not by a desire for “baptisms,” most missionaries will rise to that expectation. Some won’t, but most will.

    I know this wasn’t directly related to the seminary issue. Sorry for the off-topic rant.

  32. Kevin, I think the reference to 4:45 a.m. was a wake-up time (for an hour to get ready and then 15 minutes to travel) to a 6:00 a.m. class, not to a class starting at 4:45.

  33. “See, seminary’s not supposed to be a hazing thing.”

    Are we quite sure about that? Because the other thing in the church that frequently starts at 6:00 a.m. is the stake general priesthood meeting that accompanies stake conference, and that’s pure hazing.

  34. Happy Hubby “And I just have to say, the start time where I live is 4:45 and the stake is iron fisted about tardies – even a minute late”

    Ouch! That’s way too early!
    The stake we lived in for our youngest was the same–iron-fisted about tardies.
    Therefore, my youngest didn’t graduate because he refused to do the make-up work for the tardies. Now mind you, it was just one year when he incurred an excess number of tardies.
    (And it was also our experience that one needed permission to do home study seminary and it was granted for only certain reasons).

    I believe there should and could be more flexibility with seminary.(and church in general) For example, why not use and count Sunday School as a seminary class? Maybe only hold seminary 4 days during the week?

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    gst, that would make way more sense, but the way it was written it sure sounded like 4:45 is the beginning of class (“And I just have to say, the start time where I live is 4:45 and the stake is iron fisted about tardies – even a minute late”)

  36. Happy Hubby says:

    SORRY – typo. Start time is 5:45, but still. That does require some to wake up at 4:45 or earlier.

    Frank Pellett – You said you don’t know of studies that show kids get more sleep. Watch

    I don’t recall if they tracked # hours sleep, but the places where they have done it there were measurable decreases in suicides, decreases in automobile deaths, and improved grades. Even if they got the same # of hours and we had those results, that should be reason enough.

    I will just add that I even attended an extra 1/2 year of seminary before I went on my mission. I am an early bird and I would give my sibling and others a ride to seminary and then to school. But that was decades ago. What I see now is my kids in band/sports getting home at 8 or so several nights a week and getting by with only 4-5 hours a sleep for days at a time. Now that it is being mentioned it as hazing, I can’t say that I disagree with that.

  37. While I have no issue with later start times, I am dubious of the studies out there. My parents were both raised on farms and were up daily at 4:30am to milk cows and gather eggs. Still made it to school, played sports were involved and active in church. All the kids in their schools woke up at the same time and did the same things. Kids acclimate to their environment. When something has to be done or you don’t eat, sleeping in is not an option. There are some good attributes in past generations that have been lost in today’s culture, my own generation included. I don’t think later sleep as a teenager will compensate for a solid work ethic or a sound sense of responsibility to community and family.

  38. It’s a fact of life that some people function fine while chronically sleep-deprived, and others don’t.
    I did fine on less sleep when I was a teenager, although I was not a morning person. I got up around 5:15 to get ready for 6 a.m. seminary. I didn’t like it, but it didn’t kill me. It probably helped that I wasn’t terribly involved in much else besides school, so I had plenty of downtime in the afternoons/evenings (although I did not use it to nap). I stayed up later than I should have because my circadian rhythms didn’t care what time I had to get up in the morning and no matter when I went to bed, it took me an hour or two to get to sleep. I’m not sorry I lost out on sleep to go to seminary; I liked seminary. If I hadn’t enjoyed seminary, I would probably still, 30 years later, resent all those hours I spent in church instead of bed.

    My son, also not a morning person, does fine on less sleep than his sister needs. They are two very different personalities. It’s possible to reset your sleep clock–it takes several weeks/months, and some minor pharmaceutical intervention (e.g. a dose of melatonin in the evening), but it can be done, if you’re committed enough to be consistent with it. So far I haven’t been committed enough to do it for myself, let alone convince my night-owl children to do it. To some extent, doing stuff you don’t want to do when you don’t feel like doing it is what life is all about. Most of the real world revolves around early risers; this is another fact of life we all have to get used to. But there’s no reason to make things harder than they need to be.

    Practically speaking, if one must have seminary during the week outside of school hours, early-morning seminary seems to have the lowest opportunity cost. But it’s crazy to expect everyone to thrive on that schedule. If it’s important enough to the individual kid, he or she will make it work. If not, it will just be a misery. It’s ridiculous to be so stingy with permission to do home-study seminary. It seems like they don’t trust parents to make the right decisions for their kids. (Quelle surprise.) No one’s insisting that all activities for teens start no earlier than noon. But a little flexibility would go a long way.

  39. Gilgamesh
    The science suggests there is a genetic component as to whether someone is a night owl or early bird. A functioning society (hospital workers, law enforcement etc) requires both night owls and early birds–and evolutionary it only makes sense. (the night owl to protect against nocturnal or diurnal predators etc).
    My spouse comes from a family of night owls who were hard workers as well. My children? Two of the three are night owls in that their normal sleep cycle preference would be to stay up late and arise later. My youngest did well in school, often studying until midnight or 1 am. They are all hard workers in their chosen professions (daytime jobs).
    Even if we all adhered to the same schedule, someone who is naturally a night owl just isn’t going to have the same level of alertness as an early bird early in the day. Conversely, an early bird won’t have the same level of alertness late in the evening as a night owl.

  40. John Mansfield says:

    Circadian rhythms of early birds and late owls may apply, but we should also consider cicada rhythms. If we divide our seminary youth into broods and schedule the broods to relatively prime periods of attendance (every thirteen days for some, every seventeen days for others) that will reduce the ability of predators to gobble them all up.

  41. Online seminary is more rigorous. The instructor can actually make a kid think and respond! Even the quietest introvert has time to compose answers online. One can coast into early morning or released time seminary and warm a seat on most days. It is largely a social obligation for class with some reading attached. The online program does not allow one to do that. Where feasible, I think the entire church should go to online seminary. Seminary teachers could be called from each ward, so the students would have a seminary mentor in their local unit. And the seminary program could be part of the YW and YM programs.

  42. Sam, if I recall correctly you’re in Chicago. I live up in the suburbs and our district D220 just made the switch to later start times for high school for specifically the reasons outlined in order to give teenagers an opportunity to sleep longer. I know that many districts in the collar Counties are looking very closely at our experience and considering those shifts themselves as well. You should encourage your district leaders to look closely into the research that was accumulated by the group of parents, teachers and outside experts who analyzed the issue and presented the options to the School Board. I’ve worked closely with many involved in earlier efforts to adjust school calendars in order to support a better learning environment so I can speak to the quality of the research. You can see their efforts here: In the end, the answer was to shift start time earlier for the elementary age students since their circadian rhythm has them awake earlier in the morning, they have less homework and fewer after school activities. We shifted high school to starting at 8:30 and moved middle school to 9 AM. Our biggest issue was sorting through the costs of bus transportation since the district is so large in geography.

    From a Church perspective, we benefit that there is a Seminary class specifically dedicated to students who attend at the single high school in our district. This means that Seminary now starts at 7 AM rather than 6 AM or the ungodly 5:45 AM which I understand one of the classes meets at within our Stake because the students have a long distance to travel to get to school on time. Our Bishopric was trying to figure out how to pull our daughter into one of the other two Seminary classes since she is the only teen from our Ward who attends the district specific Seminary class. But I argued that the distance required for travel + the benefit of connecting with other LDS students in her High School (three different Wards from 2 different Stakes fall into our HS boundaries) + especially the later start time were all reasons to put her in the district specific class.

    I can say already it seems to have made a significant difference in our lives as the new challenges of the demanding schedule at high school have put further pressures on our daughters’ life but she’s more able to weather it with the balance of being able to stay up later to finish her studies as her body naturally is pushing her to do and sleep in later as well. We’ll see how this goes but I know she and we are extremely happy that the district made the change and the Seminary class is accommodating the new schedule.

    If you’re part of CPS then I know this isn’t a small request on your part and it will be a very uphill battle as it seems everything is from what I read and hear about how the 4th largest school district in the US operates. We only have ~8,700 students in our district which is dwarfed by the 330,000 in CPS.

    As a former early morning Seminary teacher I will say I have a firm testimony of the impact regular attendance has on the spiritual lives of the youth who participate. It definitely strengthens friendships and engages them in ways that just seeing each other on Sunday does not really accomplish. That said, I believe innovation in these efforts is worth exploring. Especially since youth these days are more likely to stay home and chat with each other than go out. As this Atlantic article details, this is a normal pattern in the lives of many and perhaps asynchronous learning can facilitate this trend and allow for a strong testimony to develop as a result. I know my daughter has remained tightly connected by text and FaceTime to those friends she made at EFY and this is an important element of her spiritual development as her friend base of LDS faithful is far reaching beyond just her Ward and Stake as was my experience when I was growing up.

  43. Sorry, here’s the Atlantic article I referenced concerning teens living on their devices:

  44. The biggest high school in our Midwestern city just switched to a 9 am start time. One of the seminary classes thus switched to a much more reasonable 7:15 start time. Not all high schools start that late though, so there is another seminary class in town that starts at 6. Even students who go to the late-start HS can choose to go to the early seminary class, if they have early morning extracurriculars or other considerations that make it more convenient. I’m very heartened that students are starting to have choices.

  45. I’m surprised no one has mentioned how Daylight Savings Time affects all this. Not even a small rant about how time zones are completely arbitrary, making it easier for those on the East side of the zone and harder on the West.

  46. I live in the Houston Summerwood Stake (basically NE Houston), and they start seminary here at 5:40 am for most students, and also have an “early-early” class at 5:00 am for the youth that have sport practices that begin before school starts (mostly swimming and cross-country). The stake leadership is inflexible at allowing home-schooling or online options (I was told by the stake seminary coordinator last year that only one student in the whole stake has been allowed to home study). Basically, the youth either take 5:00 am or 5:40 am, or they’re out of luck (and as you can imagine, many have pushed back but get the standard responses, which include questioning the person’s righteousness, willingness to sacrifice, sustaining leaders, and the usual “well, so-and-so has it worse than you and their kids attend every morning”).

    To me, this indicates not just a lack of common sense, but a lack of caring for the “one”. Surely, there are other youth in our stake for whom the 5:00 am and 5:40 am options don’t work for health, family, or other reasons. These youth end up missing the blessings of seminary because their leaders are not thoughtful/caring enough to allow them to take the online and/or home study options. It’s a shame that church members are forced to endure local leaders with no recourse, particularly when it impacts hundreds of youth.

  47. As Kevin wisely suggested above “your greatest leverage is the power to say “no””.

  48. 6:00am start time is already early. 5:00am start time is kind of crazy. Why not an evening option for the kids that can’t make it for the normal early morning time?

  49. very interesting. We have 6am early morning seminary. School starts at 0800. We have one lesson in the evening before mutual which helps. One ward in our stake has a split of early morning and evening seminary which works great. I agree, Sunday’s are a great option. I’ve seen two of my children graduate but it was hard on them. One used to fall asleep at school. There are real benefits but some struggle and they can risk feeling less able. I have had numerous discussions with people who express it as a challenge and also with people who feel it’s a sacrifice where the challenges will be met by the Lord.
    Ultimately I think it’s a scheduling issue. Some won’t go because it’s too early, others wouldn’t go if it was later. Either way there are logistical challenges for parents and kids.
    For me, cut the number of days. That would provide a good compromise.

  50. I have said this a number of times and nobody “bites” on the topic. In my experience early morning seminary was both anti-family and anti-friend. My children found that their friendships, honed over years of walking to elementary school and junior high school, were deeply impacted by seminary. They were not as close, and missed their friends. Their friends would wonder: where did you go?

    More importantly, seminary interfered with family prayer and with family breakfast. There was NO WAY I was going to get my 9 year up when my older kids were in Seminary. Thus, a nice morning breakfast and quality parent time was replaced by my children trying to doze during the 15 minute drive to the ward at 5:45. Seriously: seminary can weaken families.

  51. sch, I absolutely agree with you that early morning seminary is anti-family for the reasons you outline, and have also made that point in the past myself. I insisted that my kids do it online or not at all.

  52. Paul Ritchey says:

    Assuming that any given student will neither increase nor decrease her commitment to various activities based upon seminary’s start time, isn’t this just a debate about preferences between starting the day earlier and starting it later?

    And if it’s just a preference, what makes 5:00 AM seminary any less “reasonable” an hour than 7:00 PM? If the preference of most students and their families is for a late-shifted schedule and/or for evening seminary, that’s fine, but to call other preferences unreasonable seems disingenuous. I say all this, of course, as a (to-my-wife’s-utter-frustration) morning person and an ardent defender of farmer’s hours.

    As a side note, it IS unreasonable to expect youth to attend mutual until 8:15 PM during the week, and then attend seminary at 5:00 or 6:00 the next morning; but that seems to affect the issue only one day in five.

  53. Paul:

    8:15? My last ward had a strict “do not end before 8:30” policy for Mutual/Scouts/Activity Days. It was rare that I got out of the building before 9:30. On one memorable night, the girls were taken to the cannery and not returned to the church until 11:15 PM. The YW President couldn’t possibly understand why I was upset that my teenage daughter was out that late on a school night.

    Seriously, folks. These Mormon Jesuits won’t get it until more of us tell them “no”, and why we are telling them “no”. I got pushback with “Well, you and your wife just must not understand the Gospel.” Well, perhaps you don’t understand that sometimes seminary and CES is not a good thing, and sometimes it feels like that is deliberate.

  54. Paul, it’s not a debate about individual preferences. It’s a discussion about what’s best for adolescents, irrespective of their stated preferences. The evidence overwhelmingly says that teenagers need more sleep, and they’ll get the sleep they need by sleeping in, not going to bed earlier. Certainly, there are going to be exceptions to that, like there are to generalization. But in general, starting school (and starting seminary) later will be better for teenagers currently and in their futures.

  55. I’ve given my daughter blanket permission to sleep through seminary. I’d rather she sleep there than one of her academic classes.

  56. My children are out of college. Memories of those last few years at home have faded into a mellow glow. The teen years are intense for the adolescent and it is easy as a parent to get caught up in every apparent crisis. My general advice is to take a step back and a deep breath. Relax, these are the best years of your life for the most part (looking back).

    Your children will amaze you in surprising ways and they will terribly disappoint you. And not all of them have good outcomes. At least half of LDS young men will not serve missions and its hard to tell but something like a third of them will postpone marriage far beyond expectations if not to beyond the grave. A few will die from diseases or injuries and others will get hooked on drugs or slide down some other path to hell. Looking back it is really hard to blame the parents, except for a few outrageous cases.

    Early morning seminary is not a big issue in the grand scheme of things. If it works for your family, go for it. My children loved it; mostly due to the good fortune of having a great teacher and the genetic accident that they can survive on about 4 or 5 hours of sleep like their mother. It far exceeded the YM/YW program and anything else at church. If you can make it work with some effort, that is fine. If it doesn’t work or seems like it is not worth it, find something else. Without guilt! My daughter went to a liberal arts college with less than 5 LDS students and no institute classes. She got involved with an evangelical group and played in a praise band and it was a wonderful experience.

    My boss has tattooed on her arm, “This too will pass.” Good advice for this discussion. and it will pass- all too quickly.

  57. Paul Ritchey says:

    Sam: I am completely on board with adolescents getting more sleep (indeed, much more). I suppose the point I was trying (ham-handedly) to make was that the timing of sleep, rather than its duration, is a bit more open to debate, and less tied down to an answer by the science.

    As I read the AAP’s 2014 policy statement, it finds a powerful association between delayed school start times and improved sleep, but does not control for whether that additional sleep is due to the timing itself, as related to shifts in circadian rhythm, or due to daily schedule changes produced by starting school later (like, perhaps, playing two sports instead of three). And while a few studies have found biological markers of rhythmic shifts in adolescence, I wouldn’t call them overwhelming (though they are a start).

    So the AAP recommended later start times, perhaps because later sleep is near-certainly better for most adolescents (which I doubt), or perhaps because it seems like the easiest policy to implement that gets kids more sleep (which I find more believable).

  58. I’d love to see research on the effects of sunlight and the circadian rhythm on teenage sleep patterns, especially as how it might differ from adults. There’s a lot of needed research.

  59. I’d love to see some research on this: “These youth end up missing the blessings of seminary …”

  60. I live in Texas too with a late start for high school. We still have another year before having to deal with this but I already made it clear I will NOT be getting up and driving any kids to seminary at 6am ever. If DH wants kids to go he can take them there.

  61. I’m still thankfully several years from seminary aged children. As a substitute seminary teacher I realized how great it is where I live. The stake center is next to the high school so it’s drop off only! Also, we offer 6 am and 6:45 am seminary. 6:45 in my opinion is quite doable for most kids, though I may have a son that will be the exception, as my seven year old can sleep past noon on the weekends!

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