Category Archives: Health & Wellness

Overbooking Our Kids

I do my homework on the train on my way to practice.
I study during breaks at dance.
I try to do schoolwork on the weekend so I can get to sleep before midnight on school nights.
We don’t get home until after 8pm because it’s a long drive from my violin lesson.

busyAbove are comments I hear from students of all ages in Lower, Middle, and Upper School. Hearing these comments make me sad, and I feel the weight of their exhaustion from their over-packed schedules. Extracurricular activities compounded with lack of sleep is causing our students to be stressed and unhappy. Picture this past week. Were you driving your kids in the car, trying to be somewhere on time? Think of the stress involved with getting the family ready, getting them in the car, getting to the activity on time, waiting, ensuring they practiced their skill at home. Is this quality time spent with your child?

Often when I meet with students regarding time management, goal setting, or stress, I have them lay out their weekly schedule for me to pick apart. What I’m looking for is time they are not successfully utilizing, ways they are unnecessarily distracting themselves, or social emotional stressors in their lives. Whatever the issues, they result in lack of sleep, and almost always, the source of the problem is their jam-packed week.

Are students allotting time for enough sleep? No. Are they excelling academically? Usually not.   The Sleep Foundation recently published this study of 3,000 high school students. Those who reported higher grades “had significantly more sleep time and earlier bedtimes on school nights than those with lower grades.”

I recently asked one student if he enjoyed playing piano. “I’d rather spend time with my mom,” was his answer. Parents often ask me for ideas about what they can do to help lessen their child’s stress, make them happier, motivate them. What if the easy answer is to stop shuffling them around and allowing them to be kids? I am not alone in this line of thought. At the end of this blog, I have listed several sources that echo my own thoughts here.

Some other thoughts on ways to not overbook your child:

  • Take a semester off from after-school classes
  • If you do sign them up for lessons, ask them first if they enjoy them
  • Make sure you provide them with free time, not iPad/tv time, but time where they can just play or talk with you
  • Don’t compete with other kids. Another parent’s overbooked child might not be a happy, successful child

Family Happiness and the Overbooked Child
Helping Overbooked Kids Cut Back
5 Tips to Avoid Overbooking your kids


By Jennifer Stec

Mrs. Stec is Morgan Park Academy’s School Counselor.


Stress in Adolescents

For many parents, our day begins with running around to get ourselves and our kids ready for the day. We drop them off at school or daycare, then rush to work to juggle various tasks to accomplish our goals. At the end of a hectic work day, we pick up the kids to shuffle them to lessons or sports. We then trudge home to make dinner, help complete homework, or tidy up the house, hoping to then throw ourselves into bed by 10 or 11 pm to get enough rest for the next day. Sometimes we fall asleep quickly, but many times sleep eludes us as we lie in bed thinking of our to-do lists. Once we finally fall asleep, after what seems like minutes, the alarm goes off and wakes us up to start the process over again.

NurseAdults juggle many daily stressors, but we have also found ways to help us relax and unwind. Some of us go to the gym, the spa, or take a personal day. Some drop the kids off and take the day to enjoy a quiet lunch alone or take in a movie. Many adults enjoy an evening cocktail or glass of wine to help themselves unwind. While these are all great ways to relax and help ourselves regroup, what are we doing to help our kids relax and de-stress?

Every morning we pull them from bed and get them to school where they sit and learn for at least 8 hours, have projects, tests, tasks, and social issues that they worry about. After school, they compete in sports or go to lessons where they are again challenged to work their hardest and do their best. They then go home in the evening where they have just enough time to complete homework and eat dinner before bedtime. Like many adults, children lie in bed thinking about their tasks list and the issues they will face the next day. Unlike adults, children do not have as many choices for ways to decompress, and oftentimes, due to their age and lack of experience, many of their issues/problems seem overwhelming, causing them great anxiety and stress.

Did you know that studies show that many of the headaches and stomachaches students present with in school are actually caused by anxiety and stress, not physical illness? The association between anxiety and stress and physical illness in children is so prevalent that even physicians have begun to take notice. Doctors like Nadine Burke Harris at the Centers Youth Wellness in San Francisco have begun screening children for traumatic experiences as they have found a positive correlation between trauma/stress and manifestation of physical illness. Her clinical research has found a direct link between childhood stressors like abuse, divorce, financial hardship, mental illness, etc. and childhood illnesses like asthma exacerbation, chronic headaches and stomachaches, obesity, frequent illness, and poor impulse control.

So while adults are finding ways to cope with our own daily stressors, let us ask what we can do to help our kids unwind. Many of the things that help us can also help our children. Some suggestions are to go for an evening walk, give your child a chance to talk about their day at dinner or before bed (this includes what they enjoyed as well as things they are concerned about and to help them think about rational solutions), play relaxing music, or partake in a fun craft or activity.

If your child suffers from any chronic conditions or any of these symptoms, try some of these stress management strategies. You may find that they may help lessen some of the recurring conditions you may be seeing in your child. And if they do not help with the physical illness, they will have at least given you some quality time for you and your child to de-stress together.


By Nerissa Conley, R.N., PEL-CSN

Ms. Conley is Morgan Park Academy’s school nurse.

Summer Wellness Tips

StecWith summer on the horizon, I have highlighted  two topics that might be helpful to families during their sabbatical from school.  

Suicide Prevention Apps:

Although summer sunshine is known to promote happiness, I encourage you to check out these suicide prevention apps and download one onto your child’s phone. “A Friend Asks” is my top pick for students.  On this app they can view warning signs, explore resources, and connect to a counselor if they don’t feel comfortable talking to a parent or family member.   

Suggested Apps:,review-2397.html

Social Media:

As much as we hope that our children will be frolicking outside this summer, let’s be realistic and acknowledge that students relaxing at home means having more time to explore online.  Keep an eye on who your child is interacting with on their electronic devices.  Is your child hiding their devices when you enter the room?  Has their mood changed after group texts or online use? By not accepting your friend request, are they hiding something?

Giving your child an electronic device opens them up to an unruly world.  They might be following your rules and innocently texting with a classmate, but what does that classmate have access to online that they are sharing? It becomes difficult to control what your child is exposed to once they are online.   

Some questions you might ask to learn more about your child’s media use, along with promoting safety:

  • Where do you spend most of your online time?
  • What’s your favorite app or video game?
  • Who do you game or communicate with most?
  • Can I review your profile and privacy settings with you?
  • What do you do if someone you don’t know starts private messaging you or commenting on your posts?
  • Do you know the repercussions of lying about your age online?
  • What image are you attempting to portray to your online friends?
  • What can happen when you post inappropriate photos of yourself online?
  • Do you understand that it isn’t acceptable to make fun of classmates or strangers online?

For more information, check out:  On this site, you can learn how to access parental controls on various devices, download a child media safety contract, and access a variety of tips on how to talk about online safety with your child. 

Jennifer Stec

Ms. Stec is a school counselor at Morgan Park Academy, a private school located in Chicago, IL.

Eat this, Not that

As a busy parent, it isn’t always easy to juggle our long to-do lists. Between working, homework, extracurricular activities and other obligations, most parents look for ways to streamline their task list. One of the most common outsourced tasks is meal preparation. A quick stop at a drive-thru or the use of pre-packaged meals are often the answer to “what are we going to eat?” But these “convenience” foods may be doing more harm than good.

NurseThe World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a 1600-2200 calorie diet per day for school age children and is currently recommending a reduction of daily sugar consumption to less than 5% of total energy intake. This equates to no more than 25 grams of sugar per day for adults and less than that for children. The WHO also recommends no more than 1500 mg of daily sodium intake for children, but many of our children’s diets often exceed these guidelines. For example, the Mega Pizza Lunchable contains 830 mg of sodium and 36 grams of sugar. That is more than the recommended daily amount of sugar for adults and almost an entire day worth of sodium in one meal.

According to the CDC, the incidences of adolescent obesity in 6-11 year olds rose from 7% in 1980 to 18% in 2012, and from 5% – 21% in 12-19 year olds. That rise in obesity has led to an increase in chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and Hypertension in adolescents. Similar recent studies have now linked adolescent hypertension with the early development of heart disease and premature death.

In addition to treating student’s various medical aliments, part of my work as the School Nurse has involved educating students about nutrition. The students know that they should “eat healthy” but are often unaware of what “eating healthy” actually means. This is especially true in today’s food market where “healthy” foods are often loaded with hidden unhealthy ingredients like sugar and salt under various other names. The nutrition education that I provide is incident-specific and typically includes a basic explanation of the different food groups and the negative effects of undernutrition on our bodies. My hope is that my chats with the students will help them recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods and give them the information they need to make informed decisions about their food choices.


By Nerissa Conley, R.N., PEL-CSN

Ms. Conley is Morgan Park Academy’s school nurse.

The Gift of Sleep: How You Can Improve Your Student’s Grades and Ensure Happiness

Last week, Nurse Conley discussed how certain symptoms of lack of sleep can resemble those of ADHD (though there is no correlation). Following are more amazing facts about sleep that will hopefully change your perspective on the way you approach sleep with your child (these are also suggestions for high school parents!) This is a topic I’m quite passionate about and students can attest that I have probably asked them what time they typically go to sleep. Depending on the answer, they can expect a possible rant of “Well, that’s why you’re so cranky…”, or “No wonder you’re getting bad grades!”

StecSleep. What a luxury, as I write this at 6:00 in the morning on a Saturday, following an energetic wake up from my 3-year-old. Coffee is my long-time friend, and the days are gone that I sleep in until a time of my choice. So, why write this blog on sleep if it’s something that I don’t seem to get enough of in my own life? Though highly beneficial for adults, sleep for a child under the age of 21 is crucial to their growth and happiness. A lack of sleep actually causes irreversible, permanent changes in the formation of a child’s growing brain. Growth hormones are sleep-activated and continue to do their hard work until age 21, so if sleep isn’t currently important to how you view your child’s success, it should be.

One of my favorite child psychology books, NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, presents a chapter on scientific research on sleep. Following are some findings and studies discussed in the book:

  • Less than 8 hours of sleep in teenagers doubles the risk for clinical depression.
  • Child obesity is now thought to be caused by lack of sleep, not by sedentary activity such as sitting and watching T.V. (although those don’t help).
  • A group of sixth-grade children were randomly assigned to get an hour less sleep than normal for three days compared to a control group. After the three days, both groups were given a cognitive aptitude test. The sleep deprived children lost the equivalent of 2 years of cognitive maturation. In essence, with one hour less of sleep, a mildly sleep deprived sixth-grader will perform at the cognitive level of a fourth-grader.
  • Two studies looked at the cost of “sleep-shifting,” a common occurrence where children go to sleep later than usual, as on weekends. They found that every hour later that their sleep schedule was shifted cost them an average of 7 points on a standard IQ test.
  • A study looking at high school sleep schedules found that A students got an average of 15 minutes more sleep compared to B students who, in turn, got 15 minutes more compared to C students.
  • A school district in Minnesota shifted start times from 7:30am to 8:30am and found a 56 point increase in their top students’ math SAT scores and a 156 point increase in their verbal SAT scores. Additionally, students reported higher levels of motivation, lower levels of depression, and police reported a 25% drop in teenage traffic accidents after the change.

Recommended hours of sleep according to the CDC:

Newborns 16–18 hours a day
Preschool-aged children 11–12 hours a day
School-aged children At least 10 hours a day
Teens 9–10 hours a day
Adults (including the elderly) 7–8 hours a day

So, gently guide your child to bed at an earlier hour, and see a happier, calmer, more motivated student. Success is attainable via rest!

By Jennifer Stec

Ms. Stec is our school counselor.

ADHD or Sleep Deprivation?

Some of the most common issues that I hear both parents and teachers report having with students is that the child may be easily distracted, excessively tired, has difficulty staying focused, and has issues with hyperactivity. Once parents report these symptoms to their pediatricians, a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often suspected. But what if your child doesn’t have ADHD; what if they are simply sleepy?

NurseWith increased accessibility to electronic devices (smart phones, televisions, tablets, etc.) in their bedrooms, children’s brains are constantly stimulated and the attainment of quality sleep is decreasing. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends that school age children get at least 10-12 hours of sleep a night. However, a 2014 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that school age children actually get an average of only 7-9 hours. According to NHLBI, loss of sleep of over several days, even if only at 1-2 hours per night, can impair body function as if you have not slept at all for 1-2 days! Sleep is important because it helps the brain store and process information that it received during the day, repair heart and blood vessels, and maintain the body’s hormonal balance which controls things like body weight, emotions, immunity, etc. Studies have shown that sleep deprived students are unable to focus, emotionally unstable, and often become hyperactive to combat fatigue. Coincidentally, these symptoms of sleepiness mimic the most common symptoms associated with ADHD.

So what can you do to help rule out chronic sleepiness before we begin to suspect ADHD? Dr. Darius Loghmanee, director of Advocate Christ’s Children’s Sleep Network, has made a few recommendations. First, Make sure your child is attaining quality sufficient amounts of sleep by setting appropriate and consistent bedtimes and adhering to them. A bedtime should allow for at least 10-12 hours of sleep based on their wake time, with a cushion for unexpected events. Ask yourself what time does your child get ready for bed and what time do they actually fall asleep; these are two different things. Delayed onset of sleep decreases total sleep time. In today’s society we are busier than ever and children are often doing homework right up until bedtime. We cannot forget that children need time to unwind and relax before falling asleep just like adults. A bedtime routine helps the body relax and recognize that it is time for bed. Second, children lie awake at night like adults worrying about their task list or social issues for the day to come. To help alleviate this issue, try giving your child a forum outside of the bedroom to talk about their day, worries, successes, to-do lists, etc. to avoid having them obsess over them at bedtime. Third, turn off (or better yet remove) televisions, games, tablets, phones, etc. from the bedrooms as these are stimulating and only increase the time it takes to fall asleep. Bright lights from devices suppress the secretion of the hormone that makes the body fall asleep. Even as adults we are guilty of having to check every notification when our devices are nearby. Also, the usage of electronics is deceptively time consuming as many times a quick check of email, social media, or a game turns into thirty minutes or more of texting, playing, or internet surfing. Finally, listen to your child sleep. Do they snore, cough, etc.? Snoring and coughing throughout the night may be an indication of sleep apnea or another obstructive sleep disorder which may require medical intervention if not related to a cold or congestion.

A study published in a 2012 issue of the journal Pediatrics found that school-age children who were given an extra hour of sleep each night showed an improvement in emotional stability, impulsive behavior, and a reduction in day-time sleepiness. Sleep is a multi-faceted topic that has a profound impact on our daily lives. I hope this inspires you to evaluate the quality of sleep and sleep habits of your children to hopefully improve their daily function in the classroom, and to possibly identify those students who may require further evaluation.

By Nerissa Conley, R.N., PEL-CSN

Ms. Conley is Morgan Park Academy’s school nurse.

GLSEN’s Day of Silence: Working to End Bullying

GLSEN day of silence

By Claire Mordi ’15

Founded in 1996, GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) Day of Silence is a day where students all over the world can band together to make a powerful impact within their schools on the topic of LGBT bullying. I am pleased to say that with a lot of planning and preparation, Morgan Park Academy’s Upper School and Middle School students were able to take part in this event to show that bullying is not acceptable anywhere, at anytime, no matter who you are.

Our student committee promoted the event by writing complimentary Post-it notes on each of our classmates’ lockers, selling T-shirts and bracelets, and organizing a huge bake sale — all leading up to the celebrated Day of Silence on April 24, when the students and faculty came dressed in black or in the Day of Silence T-shirts. Participating students remained silent during the school day outside of class participation.

But this year, not only did we on the committee want to call attention to bullying based on sexual orientation, we aimed to highlight all types of bullying, whether it’s about your sexual orientation, race or ethnic background, appearance, or your personality.

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