You may recall we recently reported that, while parents tended to worry about their children’s use of mobile devices, they were essentially blind to their own excessive usage of the devices. We parents often just don’t seem to have a very good handle on the issue of how our kids are using their phones and other devices.
The point has recently been made once again, as a new study in a British journal has illuminated a secret many teens are keeping. It seems the day’s texting, web surfing and gameplay are continuing well into the night for many, disrupting in the process much-needed sleep. Of course, it’s not entirely a new phenomenon: bookish teens have for decades covertly sneaked a copy of their favorite book under the covers and read with a flashlight while their parents blissfully slumbered down the hall, oblivious.
What’s new, of course, is that the little devices we carry with us constantly are powerful and even addictive. And such habits, while they may seem harmless, might actually have profound negative effects because they’re occurring at the very time teens need good sleep — and a lot of it.
In her Journal of Youth Studies article, Cardiff University Researcher Sally Power studied about 900 young people between 12 and 15. Subjects were asked whether they got up during the night to check their mobile devices. As many as one in five reported getting up regularly to check their email, text or social media accounts, and kids who admitted to nighttime usage were three times more likely to report feeling sleepy or excessively tired the next day.
“Our research shows that a small but significant number of children and young people say that they often go to school feeling tired — and these are the same young people who also have the lowest levels of well-being,” Power noted.
And there were gender differences as well: Power’s study found that, among younger subjects, more than a quarter of girls reported waking up to check their devices, while only about 15 percent of boys checked in during the night.
While the problem may seem like just a sleepy kid at breakfast, it may go deeper. The National Sleep Foundation reports teens need at least eight to 10 hours of quality sleep per night. Not getting enough sleep can cause a variety of problems, such as obesity, daytime sleepiness, lessened attention span and poor grades. Some researchers have connected the light from many devices with decreased levels of melatonin, a chemical emitted by the brain that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycles. And some types of light — such as the bluish tints coming from device screens — are believed to be especially potent at suppressing melatonin.
Although Power stopped short at declaring the problem an “epidemic” or advocating a “prescribed” sleep period, she noted the research seems to confirm other research that found “significant and serious implications of the night-time use of social media for levels of tiredness and well-being.”
For parents interested in addressing this issue, the website Teensafe.com has some tips. Among them:
- Consider a “Family Smartphone Contract.” Talk with your kids about your concerns over nighttime phone use and get them to sign a contract that they’ll abide by it. (This depends, of course, on trust.)
- Control your Wi-Fi. Although it’s not a perfect solution (some phone features can work using the phone’s data plan), your home network controls might allow you to set specific time limits for general use, or even restrict sites — such as social media sites — at specified times.
It also might be a good idea to set a good example. Asking our teens to curb their phone usage has little impact if we set a double standard. Limiting our own usage at night not only can help us keep the moral high ground but also help us; we could all benefit from a better night’s sleep.