How To Wake A Sleeping Teenager (Without Starting World War III)

Unmade Bed

When I hear parents of young children talk about how their kids are up before the sun rises, and how they can’t wait until they’re older so they can get some extra sleep, I empathize. Then I tell them not to wish it away too quickly, because sweet toddlers in the pre-dawn hours beat grumpy-teen vampires any day of the week.

When my sons were little, they were early risers too, though luckily, they didn’t feel the need to do somersaults the moment they opened their eyes — a big help since I was often up late doing freelance work.  Still, 6 a.m. came awfully soon. To ease our way into the day, television shows like Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, and Arthur were my drugs of choice, along with my mother-in-law’s video gifts of SpongeBob SquarePants and Yu-Gi-Oh! — both shows I swore I’d never watch but ended up doing exactly that, laughing along with the boys. On the rare occasion that they overslept, I couldn’t — certain that there was something wrong, I’d sneak into their room to check to be sure they were still breathing.

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Years passed.  And as they did, the boys woke later and later, until, as children tend to do, they became teenagers, and the only part of the wake-up routine that was familiar was the checking-to-make-sure-they-were-breathing part.

Today, I’m a self-certified expert in How to Wake A Sleeping Teenager. Hundreds of hours have gone into my training. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Don’t Do This:

1. Take away privileges. When you’re frustrated, it’s tempting to show who’s boss. But the reality is that they’re teens for seven years. And sometimes longer. Pretty soon they’ll be muttering, okay, whatever. And you will be too.

2. Buy multiple, creative alarms. They will tune them out and make them part of their dream sequences which they will tell you about in elaborate detail, usually when you are driving them to whatever it is they are late for.  Not even an alarm that sounds like a rooster, or one that recites lines from classic movies in ridiculous voices, or one that says wake up in progressively louder voices. I have tried them all.

3. Send in the dog. This will backfire because it will make them happy and when they are happy, they feel cozier, and when they are happy and cozy they go back to sleep because they want to keep dreaming.

Do This:

1. Quietly open their bedroom door, head to the kitchen, and fry up some bacon.  You won’t have to say a word. Swear.

2. Piss them off. And believe me, this will be easy to do, regardless of how well-meaning you are. Try coming into their room and raising the blinds, or turning on the light. Or cheerily saying, Good morning, sweetheart. Or better yet, if you’re in a house with two levels, call their name from downstairs, which will sound like a yell because it is after the first few times you say it nicely.  They will then sit up and yell back one of two things: WHAT? Which will piss you off because they know very well what, or I’M UP MOM! which they are not, because if they were, neither of you would be yelling. Word of warning here — these methods are guaranteed to rouse them, but will also excite the bear in them and they will not be nice again until they have eaten.

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3. Text them.  Why would they hear a text ding or feel its vibration if numerous alarms don’t work? I have no idea.  They are the next generation and they have been rewired — trust me on this.  But here’s the thing…in your text, you have to offer to take them to Subway because it turns out vampire teens will wake for Subway.

4. If all else fails, bring out the big guns; Turn on the cartoons. They secretly miss them. And the chance to slow the world down and watch them with you.

About the writer


Melissa T. Shultz is a writer, and an editor with Jim Donovan Literary. Her essays and articles have run in publications such as The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal,, Newsweek, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Club Mid,, and The Los Angeles Times as well as CNN Radio. She was previously director of creative services for Food Marketing Institute in Washington, D.C. Her first book will be published by Sourcebooks in 2016. Follow her on Twitter and her blog, Sisterhood of


Joanna 8 months ago

None of those work for my son. Any ideas now please?

Chantelle 12 months ago

Thank you. My teen (14) is difficult to deal with on a good day and this article made me laugh and cry simultaneously. The things we must endure as parents! 😀

Sister baby 1 year ago

I have a brother and getting him up is like disturbing a hunting bear before hibernation

Jen 2 years ago

Yes, definitely #2! I always ask my husband “why is he asking ‘what?’, what else would I want at 6:30am?”

V 2 years ago

All of these ideas are great but I’ve tried them all . I have a17 year old and 13year old twin boys. The17 year old wakes for nothing. He is now trying a natural sleep aid which seems to be working so far . He has trouble going to sleep at a decent hour . Didn’t think it would come to this but I had to do something I was going insane.

Mean Mom 2 years ago

My 17yr old high school senior gets one “good morning, time to get up” from me. After that I come back with the squirt gun. Ticks her off, but she jumps out of the bed fast enough. And for those of you with teens taking excessively long showers, I have told mine that they are only entitled to 20 minutes of hot water. After that I turn off the tap on the water heater! They can chose to stay in as long as they want, but cold water is all they are getting!

beds 2 years ago

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Dajhena Colbert Tty 3 years ago

Teens can be hard to wake…. I should know I am one lol.

Hillary 3 years ago

Thank you for the reminder not to wish away the early morning riser portion of our lives. It’s easy to get grumpy, but maybe if I drag my butt to bed earlier I’d be perky in the morning instead of a bear myself! That aside, there’s not much that’s sweeter than waking up to two little heads excitedly asking, “Is it morning Mommy?” always followed by, “Is it a Family Day?” (insert Mommy Guilt here).

Anonymous 3 years ago

Yes,if everything has been done for them their entire lives. At what point will they have any responsibility for themselves? These are the kids who won't get up for college classes, or go to work unless mama gets them up, dresses them, feeds them and drives them.

    Anonymous 2 3 years ago

    Why would you assume everything is being done for her teenager? Do YOU have a teenager? Who says they don’t need and benefit from parenting as teens? Do you really think they are ready for the world? Am sorry you are so angry –and by the way, a little good humor goes a long way…try it.

Anonymous 3 years ago

Why is this woman going to such lengths to wake her teenagers? Why isn't she giving them the responsibility for getting themselves up and having the consequences for not doing so? They should be making their own breakfasts and getting themselves ready for school as well. Why is she still treating them like babies?

Anita @ Losing Austin 3 years ago

We’re already dealing with a small dose of this with my 10 year old- I think we’re in the sweet spot before teen but after the early wake ups. Though we still have a 3 year old who wakes up and immediately demands breakfast, at least the 10 year old can make cereal for them both and I get an occasional weekend sleep in!

C.J. 3 years ago

My dad used to knock on my bedroom door like a tv police officer. Had no choice but to answer. He wouldn’t stop until I did. As soon as I answered he would yell through the door as sweetly as possible “Rise and shine sweetheart, it’s a beautiful morning!”. It used to drive me crazy when he did that, I can’t wait to do it to my girls when they are teenagers!

Patricia Howard Woytek 3 years ago

All true!

Shannon 3 years ago

My mom used to wake us up by flipping on the light every single morning. Pissed me off to no end. I swore I would never do that to my kids, and I haven’t. But, I’m one of the lucky ones. All but one of my five kids is quick to get up and get going. Getting them to eat breakfast is another story. All but 1 of the 5, different kid, wakes up hungry. The rest won’t eat at all no matter what I bribe them with.

Wendy Block 3 years ago

Cherie Marshall , unfortunately, that would mean I would suffer, too!

Cherie Marshall 3 years ago

Hah, if they're late just let them be late and suffer the consequences! That's life!

Melissa T. Shultz 3 years ago

Thanks for all the great notes and suggestions!

Melissa T. Shultz 3 years ago

Thanks for all the great notes and suggestions!

Helicopter Mom and Just Plane Dad 3 years ago

This is one of those delicate tasks that they need to teach parents about in school. Approach teen slowly, don't make direct eye contact, speak in hushed tones. Teens are vampires! I agree with Wendy below, text them! Their eyes pop open and they are raring to go!

    Melissa T. Shultz 3 years ago

    So is texting the new alarm clock? Weigh in…

Anne Wiegman 3 years ago

You nailed this! Thanks for putting it into words!

Gaylene Sundquist 3 years ago

This is so true! My almost 13 year old fits this perfectly! Yes Subway for breakfast is my bribery to get to work early!

Savi 3 years ago

When I was a kid my dad used to come into my room singing “It’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s time to get up, it’s mooooorning!” I would leap out of bed just to get away from it. Pissed me off so bad. Still does just thinking about it. I don’t have a teen yet but I go through this battle with my husband.We only have one vehicle so we commute together. He makes us late every morning. I bribe him with bacon when I have time.

Joanne 3 years ago

It’s too bad that preschool starts so late and high school so early when research (and anecdotes) shows us all the time that it’s teenage brains that need those extra hours of sleep in the AM. Seems silly to fight nature that way. Although I guess it’s hard to get all the hours of classwork, sports and other extra curriculars, and homework in without starting early.

Larissa 3 years ago

So, I have an alomst-16-year-old son. We have done the multiple alarm clocks, scattered throughout his room (thinking he has to get up to turn them off) but the kid sleeps through all of them!!! I need to find a mattress pad that shocks him or something :(

Stephanie R 3 years ago

haha! I have had much success with waking my son up by pissing him off. I use our intercom and sing REALLY loudly into it. Initially I thought that it would be an adorable way to wake him up, but it turns out that it makes him really pissed.

Debbie 3 years ago

Good list here for teens and wake up calls. I had one that didn’t want to get up. After so many times I just let her sleep. Would take the other 2 to school. She would finally wake up and say she was ready to go to school. I would just look at her and say, “Sorry you over slept, guess you are stuck with me. I have lots of work for you to help me with today.”
One time of this and she learned real quick to hear that alarm go off and get her little butt moving.
School was more fun than staying home and helping mom with the work.Thanks Melissa when we put ideas together we can always find something that works.

    Leslie 3 years ago

    I’m sorry, I read your blog post “Can we really trust the blog scary mommy?” And I’m wondering why you are here. You say some pretty negative things.

      Debbie 3 years ago

      Hi Leslie,

      Sorry you took my post and negative, I am just trying to understand why mothers are speaking so much negativety about parenting rather than the joys of being a mother.
      I am here trying to understand mothers of this generations. I have raised 3 girls all by myself mainly and have grand kids, so I need to keep up with what is happening. We can’t learn unless we reach out for knowledge… Knowledge is wisdom on the positive side.

    Jordan 3 years ago

    I also read your blog post. I found it to be completely one sided. For example, you quoted half of a confession. I remember the confession. The woman said she wished she had married for money because that way she could spend her time with her daughter. I thought it was a sweet confession and seemed to be in jest, not literal. You obviously have trouble with the whole picture aspect of writing.

      Debbie 3 years ago

      Or Jordon is it that maybe you have trouble with the truth. As for that confession, I guess my PC was holding out on me, because I did not see the part of her wishing she had more money so she could spend more time with her daughter. Money does not by you time. Using your time wisely is what counts. Maybe she should have taken the time she was on her PC and spent it with her daughter instead.
      The more you write the better ones writing gets, so right now I am just practicing.
      I do have to feel a little bad for you Jordan that you feel you have to try and really belittle someone with that comment. I just pray that you don’t put your own children down in this matter.
      Self esteem is very important and with this comment,”You obviously have trouble with the whole picture aspect of writing”, guess you may need a little work or your self-esteem.
      Thank you for sharing your feeling, Jordan, it is appreciated.

        Jordan 3 years ago

        If we are talking about the same confession, here is exactly what that confession said “If I could go back, I would have married for money and not gotten my masters degree. All I want to do is be a SAHM. I can’t justify that to my husband. I’ve already been home 7 months. I fear I will have to go work soon.” To me, that woman wants to be home with her child. You quoted a small portion of that confession. Therefore you did not show the whole picture.

        Additionally, to say that she should get off her pc and spend time with her child is silly. Babies at seven months old sleep often, both during the day and at night. It is possible to spend maximum time with your child and still find time to be on your PC.

        I apologize that you felt belittled with my comment. That was not my intention. I was just pointing out then, as I am now, that in regards to that particular confession you might have shown a one sided portrayal. I have not nor would I ever belittle my child.

        Finally, I do not have trouble with my self esteem, but it does appear that you have trouble with both writing and constructive criticism.
        Thank you for sharing your feelings.

Carpool Goddess 3 years ago

Great list and so true, Melissa!

    Melissa T. Shultz 3 years ago

    Thank you! Am sure you can relate…

Allie 3 years ago

Oh this post made me laugh only because I can relate.

My 14yo son is a grump in the mornings. I need to be all cheerful, even fake it, to not make him even grumpier. He needs about 30 minutes to find his bearings then we are all good. And, yes, don’t send the dog in, she thinks of a cozy spot.

My 12 yo daughter is the happy riser but can be hard sometimes. The food trick works but it needs to be pancakes.

These are great, we may find it amusing but waking up teens before noon is hard. Thanks for the ideas and letting me know my kids are normal. :-)


    Melissa T. Shultz 3 years ago

    They are, they are — and you know what? My oldest son (20) has a job this summer and works 9-5 and it seems that he can’t sleep on the weekends later than 8 am because his body clock has been altered. So just know that eventually, there will be a new normal for your children (and you) too!

Melissa 3 years ago

Please don’t say the need to check on their breathing doesn’t go away! My 1 year old didn’t make so much as a peep last night so I went in to check on him at 5:30am…and he promptly woke up…and was a little grumbly about it. Oh no, he’s already channeling the teenage years!

    Melissa T. Shultz 3 years ago

    Those kind of grumblings are still delish — enjoy every last one!

grownandflown 3 years ago

We have had a succession of chocolate labs and our now 23 year old’s dog was named Argus. For years, we employed the Argus Alarm Clock to wake him up. Worked every time.

    Melissa T. Shultz 3 years ago

    I bet Argus could make some extra treat money by making rounds to wake up teenagers in your neighborhood!

      grownandflown 3 years ago

      Always wanted to figure out a way for the dogs to be self-feeders!

Kat 3 years ago

Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten how to sleep in. I never seem to make it past 8:30 on the weekends so now I get the pleasure/payback of rousing them! I’m nice enough to give them until 9:30 though because I don’t want to deal with the bad moods.

maureen 3 years ago

How true this is mine are older now but I remember those days. The smell of bacon got them up right away esp my oldest

Wendy Block 3 years ago

Or Dunken Doughnuts!

Wendy Block 3 years ago

They wake for texts because they think it might be a friend! My son was never a problem this way- he wanted to get in the shower before his sister, who would take forever! My daughter was absolutely impossible! She broke more alarm clocks than I can count – literally smashing them. Pissing her off was the only way, but so unpleasant. I'm so glad I don't have to do that anymore.

    Kristen Mae at Abandoning Pretense 3 years ago

    Okay, ^^^ these types of comments are scaring me even more than the actual post… :-/

    And people think babies are hard?!

Erin 3 years ago

All true! Teenage daughter tested. Now if only I were smarter…teen and 4-year-old means no sleep for parents! One keeps you up all night, and the other is active all day.

    Melissa T. Shultz 3 years ago

    Wow, you really are sunk for awhile!

Tonya Braun 3 years ago

Telling them you're going to McDonalds works also

stilltrying 3 years ago

My son is 14, I go for the annoyingly cheerful voice, followed by lights on and curtains opened! Although I agree he could smell bacon from 10 miles away…..the issue I am having at the moment is getting him out of the shower once he is up!

    Wendy 3 years ago

    I hear ya! My daughter could spent 45 mins. in the shower, and another 45 getting dressed, doing her hair, etc. So exasperating!

      stilltrying 3 years ago

      Ah, see boys all least don’t have all the makeup and hair faffing to do, he seems to spend the entire morning in the shower, empty the contents of the fridge, and still be ready before me so he can get a few minutes of moaning about me making him late in before we leave. …….( in my defence, I also have a 6 year old to get ready, otherwise I would kick his a** in the getting ready “race”)

        Melissa T. Shultz 3 years ago

        Yes, we didn’t even get started on the shower…that’s certainly worthy of another essay in itself, right?

          Allie 3 years ago

          OH! the shower dilemma! Yes, don’t get me started! Lol.

        Joanne 3 years ago

        My brother used to use the shower as a way to get more sleep. He’d turn it on but then just lay on the bathroom floor snoozing. You could see his feet under the crack in the door if you looked while you were eye level with it walking upstairs!

          Ariana 3 years ago

          That’s hilarious!

Lawry 3 years ago

My mom’s favorite evil ass trick was an ice water filled super soaker!! Guaranteed to wake us up piss us off and make us have to get up to pee ..Every. Damn. Time…..Pure Evil Mom genius right there!!

Mom off meth 3 years ago

My mom would very rarely use the squirt bottle that she misted her plants on me. Or take away my covers. Oh, it woke the beast in me.

These are great and super funny.

    Meg 1 year ago

    My mom would bang on the frame of the door on her way to the bathroom shouting “wake up, it’s time to go, we’re gonna be late”. When I was trying to stay home and refused to get up she’d rip off the covers on her way out of the bathroom and spray me with her hair water bottle.

Kristen Mae at Abandoning Pretense 3 years ago

When mine are teens, I’ll try my ever-loving best to be sure I’m sleeping in right along with them. I mean, like, in my own bed. That would be creepy to be still sleeping with my kids when they’re teenagers. And then when we all wake up we can cook bacon… together! <3 <3 <3

I had surgery today; I could still be slightly delusional.

Amber 3 years ago

I’ll keep this in mind when my kids are teens. My son is 11. He still wakes up early.

Bacon always wakes me up though. Mmmm….


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