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Center for Adolescent Health

Center for Adolescent Health Blog

teen sleep

Did you know that if you go over 19 hours without sleeping, you have the mental and physical faculties of a person who is legally drunk? Sleep is a very important part of ordinary human life. Sleep helps our brains and bodies to recuperate, and gives us energy for the next day. It affects our learning ability, memory, mood and attention span. It can also affect our reaction time, which means that a sleepy person behind the wheel of a car is just as dangerous as a drunk driver. The majority of people do not have a problem falling asleep, especially young children and older adults. However, the age group that has the hardest time getting sleep is teenagers.

People my age (teens between 13 and 18) are supposed to get roughly eight to ten hours of sleep a night. That’s too bad considering that over 80% of teens get 7 hours or less of sleep each night. Our internal clock might be one reason we miss out on our recommended amount of sleep. A person’s internal clock is how our bodies tell time. Everyone has one, but for teenagers, our internal clocks are wonky, which means that it can make it harder to fall asleep or wake up early. But there’s not much we can do about that now other than live with it.

Here’s the thing…most teenagers have other factors that impact how much and how well they sleep. One biggie is stress. Studies show that between the ages of 14 and 20, life is largely more stressful than any other age of human lives. Maybe because it comes from EVERYWHERE, like school, family dynamics, friends (or frenemies) and even our own hormones sometimes working against us. It can be hard to change or avoid things that can cause us stress. Luckily, I have found some tips for dealing with school and other stress inducing things that affect our sleep negatively.

  1. Prioritize: Give yourself specific times for any type of work, whether it be homework, a job, or chores. Also try to consolidate work time into large chunks.
  2. Be Realistic: Don’t try to take on more work than you know you can. Try focusing on few things so that you can excel in them, instead of being mediocre at a multitude of things. With this in mind, you can eliminate unnecessary activities.
  3. Balance out Stress: Do activities that help to relieve stress, like reading, writing, exercising, talking with friends. Not everyone is the same, so find the healthy thing that works for you and do that to reduce the stress you may be feeling.
  4. Keep a Sleep Schedule (no matter how silly it sounds): Make sure that you consistently get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. It’s ok to sleep in for a little while more when you can, but no more than an hour can mess up an already messed up internal clock.

The most helpful thing that a teen can try doing is getting an extra 60 minutes of sleep each night. This is because an extra hour can help: your mood, your grades, your memory, and your physical health.

By: Ellen Nikirk

Ellen Nikirk attends Garrison Forest High School. As a participant in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program, she is working with and learning from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health


What is the first thing you think of when you hear teen dating violence? You may think of physical and/or psychological manipulation and exploitation. You might think of the statistics and information that you were told in high school. Like that 1 in 3 of young adults were in an abusive relationship by the age of 24. Or that roughly 58% of college students have been in an abusive relationship. You might have been surprised that the amount of boys who are victims of dating abuse is almost as high as the amount of girls. However, most of us know that facts, but are not quite sure how to help. For anyone who knows someone who was or is being abused, you have to be there for them. You have to be a no judgment zone, and you have to make them feel safe. Here are a few suggestions on how to help a young person who may be in an abusive or unhealthy relationship.

I think my friend is in an unhealthy relationship. What should I do?

If you find out that one your friends’ is in an abusive relationship, what are you going to do? Tell them that you have too and it is a normal part of teenage relationships? NO! You want to be able to help them while in the relationship, and hopefully out of the relationship. Consider this list of Dos and Don’ts when trying to help your friend:

  • DO help your friend to recognize the abuse
  • DO NOT let them blame themselves
  • DO connect them with resources
  • DO NOT focus on the abuser, focus on your friend
  • DO help them develop a safety plan
  • DO be supportive and caring, even if it does not feel like much
  • DO NOT directly accuse the abuser face-to-face or online, this can affect your friend negatively as the abuser may take it out on them
  • DO continue to support them after the relationship, this is very important
  • DO thank them for their trust (because it can take a lot to tell/talk to people about abuse)

My child just told me that they are in an unhealthy relationship. How can I help them?

Parents will likely have a much harder time dealing with dating violence involving their child. While over 82% of parents are positive that they could spot abuse, over half (58%) were unable to notice it. In fact, roughly 81% of parents did not see dating abuse as a problem, or did not know that it is a problem for teenagers. That fact within itself is a problem. However, if you see that your child is being abused, here are a few dos and don’ts to follow:

  • DO show acceptance
  • DO show concern
  • DO NOT directly talk about the person, but DO talk about their actions
  • DO NOT give ultimatums to your child
  • DO give them support
  • DO be prepared
  • DO make decisions with your child, NOT for them
  • DO NOT be judgmental of your child
  • DO be there for them when they need you

What should I do if I may be a perpetrator?

The first thing that you can do is to be aware of what you are doing and know why it is wrong. Next you should focus on altering your brain from that way of thinking. Sometimes perpetrators of abuse do not know that what they are doing is wrong. They might not know because of many reasons. One could be the normalization of unhealthy relationships in society today. Another could be due to their upbringing or the relationships that they have been in before. It could also be because the perpetrator is abusing drugs or alcohol, which can impair their thinking. Sadly, another reason may be because they like doing it or they like the control that it gives them. This, however, does not forgive those actions, but it does mean that the abuser can know when they are being abusive and modify their behavior to exclude those abusive actions. Here is what perpetrators of abuse can do: get more specific info:

  • DO recognize what you are doing
  • DO do research on abuse and what exactly it means
  • DO get help, whether from a therapist or a family member
  • YOU CAN talk to your partner about the abuse in a safe setting for both of you
  • YOU CAN go to the websites below to get professional help from people specially trained to help perpetrators of violence
  • DO NOT refuse to get help and continue to harm your current and/or future partners

You can go to these websites for more external help:


Here are some additional resources that anyone can use to get more information on dating violence and ways to get external help:

By: Ellen Nikirk

Ellen Nikirk attends Garrison Forest High School. As a participant in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program, she is working with and learning from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health.


On a late summer afternoon, Powell is deep in conversation with Gary Dittman, pastor of Amazing Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, in his cluttered basement office. Their exchange calls to mind a back porch chat between friends. Powell is upbeat and empathetic as they catch up on church initiatives, a few setbacks and neighborhood politics. She’s quick to spot opportunities for promoting intergenerational fellowship and pleased to learn that Amazing Grace offers a program on healing from trauma. “You know I’m all about that!” she says.

Powell and Dittman contemplate using research funds to purchase a PlayStation 3 as a way of encouraging young men who are avid video gamers to participate in the church community. Although the topic of HIV/AIDS doesn’t come up directly in this particular conversation, they cover other critical issues from the neighborhood’s need for fresh vegetables to the young boy who lives in a three-bedroom house with 13 others and scrambles for food to feed his family.

Powell’s work with pastors takes into account the hard choices they have to make when allocating limited resources in communities with multiple health disparities. Not all are willing or able to launch HIV/AIDS ministries and outreach programs as Frank Lance has at Mt. Lebanon. Powell and Lance, who serves on the city’s HIV/AIDS commission, have spent hours discussing ways to incorporate HIV-related information and programming into the agendas of less progressive churches. “The greatest stigma [associated with men who have sex with men and HIV/AIDS] is still in the black church,” Lance says.

Read the full article....

By: Stephanie Shapiro

The average American teenager spends nearly eleven hours a day engaged in social media and accessing digital music media. Much of the existing research about the effects of popular media addresses the negative effects which purportedly range from adverse health outcomes to low educational attainment. Claims that youth-friendly music media can improve learning, reduce risky and problem behavior , and improve health outcomes have been reported in scholarly literature for years; however, debate over these claims continues without conclusive evidence that media literacy education works any better than no media literacy education.


Renee Hobbs, a leading scholar in the field of media literacy, described seven great debates about what was a movement in the early 2000s. Dr. Hobbs’ manuscript was published at the same time stakeholders were grappling with how to address rising numbers of young people who were disengaged with the traditional school curriculum. Seven questions were at the center of the debate years ago and remain central to most serious discussions about the acceptability and feasibility of media education in schools. Of the seven, I will address the three that relate best to my current research in Baltimore. 1) Does media literacy protect kids?; 2) Does media literacy require student media production activities to be accepted as promoting media literacy?; 3) Should media literacy be weighted toward popular culture?  Stakeholders then and today know that the themes and messages in popular media are controversial and many conflict with pro-health and pro-social goals for young people.  However, the jury is still out, regarding whether eleven hours a day of repeated exposure to the prevailing themes in popular youth music media has any effect on children and adolescents.


Based on my preliminary data analysis from two recent studies I conducted with two groups of youth in Baltimore, it appears that media literacy education holds much promise for engaging so-called ‘high-risk’ youth in formal and informal learning spaces. Outcomes may include improving school culture and climate, as well as potentially improving academic, behavioral, emotional moral and social competencies/skills among youth. Additionally, it appears that young people would be receptive to using youth-friendly media as prompts to address a growing cry for social justice, especially in urban spaces across the United States. The debate about whether such an approach will “protect kids” may never be resolved, however, it certainly could not hurt to educate all concerned about the key questions and core concepts for media literacy pedagogy.  More information about these key questions and core concepts can be found at: [].


The real challenge we face is how to harness the intersection of technology, mass media, consumerism and popular culture to help young people develop skills and competencies required to thrive in school and beyond.  I do not have the answer, however, I believe the answer lies is facilitating dialogue for more critical thinking about the prevailing themes and messages in popular youth music media.  I also believe teaching the five key questions and core concepts of an inquiry-based media literacy pedagogy will enable young people and the adults in their lives to  address the ABCs of life; that is the attitudes and attributes ,beliefs and behaviors,  consequences and choices that may be linked to these prevailing themes and messages.  That’s my opinion. What’s yours?

By: Julian Owens

Julian Owens is a Post-Doctoral Fellow working with reserachers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health.

               rosario intern

This past summer, I was given the amazing opportunity to intern at the Center for Adolescent health under the mentorship of Drs. Beth Marshall and Terri Powell. This experience was both personally and professionally rewarding because of the relationships I made at Johns Hopkins as well as for the skills I developed as a researcher.

During my time at the Center, I worked on a project analyzing teen birth rates in Baltimore City. This is part of a larger project involving The Strategic Plan to Reduce Teen Pregnancy in Baltimore City. This plan was created in 2010 as a set of strategies created in collaboration with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Baltimore City Health Department, and many sectors of the Baltimore community in order to tackle teen pregnancy. It is now in the process of being updated and so my role this summer was to look at where progress had been achieved and to identify possible areas where work still needs to be done. I did this by looking at large data sets from the Baltimore City Health Department, Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the CDC. My responsibilities included analyzing not only trends of teen pregnancy, but also trends of adolescent engagement in sexual risk behaviors, visits to Title X Clinics, and the proportion of high schools in Baltimore which offer sexual and reproductive health education. My goal was to create a detailed story of teen pregnancy in Baltimore. Twice during the summer, I attended meetings with the city health department and was able to see how my work directly affected the conversation among healthcare workers regarding the update of the Strategic Plan.

By the end of the summer, I was expected to produce a PowerPoint presentation, poster, and research paper which represented my work. These assignments challenged me to overcome my fear of speaking in front of crowds as well as pushed my abilities as a writer. From this experience, I also learned not to accept data at face value and to always ask questions about how the information was collected and to consider how it can be interpreted in many different ways.

In addition to my mentors, the members at the Center, only added to my experience with their kindness and patience. Many were willing to provide insight into their own paths to public health which, as undergrad interested in the field, was greatly appreciated. Lastly, I thoroughly enjoyed the project I worked on this summer and now know that I would like to work in the fields of either adolescent health or reproductive health as future professional in public health.

By: Rosario I. Majano

Rosario Majano attends Cornell University. As a participant in the Diversity Summer Internship (DSIP) Program, she worked with and learned from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health.