Do your preteens or teen have cellphones in their bedrooms?

Tech Talk Tuesday #55: Cellphones in your preteen or teen's bedrooms? 

Photo by junpinzon/iStock / Getty Images

A major study  recently showed without question the negative effect cellphones have on the quantity and quality of children’s sleep. It’s a major sleep public health issue: 75% of teens do not get the recommended 8 to 9 hours of sleep. Why public health experts care is because things like accidents, obesity, mental health problems all go up with sleep deprivation – and grades go down.

Many parents don’t allow TVs in their children’s bedrooms but lack similar guidelines around cell phones and computers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and teens not have any screens in their bedrooms including phones, computers or TVs.

The issue is compounded by teens’ natural tendency toward staying up late, My son Chase is a senior in a New York public school who gets up at 5:45 a.m. each day.  He tries to fall asleep early but for many reasons he is often not asleep until around 11 p.m. .

I talked to Chase and other teens about going to bed at night and they tell me about how it is often hard for them to fall asleep. I looked at the data and found that it is normal for teens to not get tired until around 11 p.m.  This article in The Conversation cites researcher Mary Carskadon and others at Brown University who found that: 

" ...the human brain has a marked shift in its sleep/wake pattern during adolescence. At the onset of puberty, nearly all humans (and most mammals) experience a delay of sleep timing in the brain. As a result, the adolescent body does not begin to feel sleepy until about 10:45 p.m."

Despite this science, the push to have schools start at a later time has been slow to gain traction. People have been working on this issue for more than twenty years and recently I was disappointed to learn from my friend and sleep expert, Lauren Hale, (who is the author of the article at the start of this TTT) that very few places around the country have implemented later start times. 

Back to screens…. There are many reasons phones in the bedroom can affect sleep. Notifications from updates, texts, Snapchats and the like disturb sleep. It is hard for kids that like to game to have the constant pull of their gaming device right next them all night. You can eliminate the battles that ensue in your families around kids being on their devices late into the night if you simply create a rule about what time devices come out of the bedroom. Or, better yet, how about making bedrooms device-free altogether?

The National Day of Unplugging (sundown March 3rd to sundown March 4th) is a great time to start with a new rule around no cellphones in the bedroom.

For Tech Talk Tuesday this week let's talk about taking the devices out of the bedroom.

  • Do your friends try to contact you via text, Snapchat, etc. after you've gone to bed?
  • Do you think you hear the notifications when you are asleep?
  • Do you game until late?
  • How do you feel about taking all personal devices out of the bedroom?

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My obsession with helping families parent around screen time is emotion-laden (this is about our kids so of course, it’s emotional) but also data-driven. Before I went to medical school, I was a researcher at the National Institutes of Health. After my medical training I did more research in communications and ethics. I love good data. We need good data. That said, we recently conducted a small survey of people from our Screenagers email list and I will be the first to say this is a biased sample. Respondents were not chosen at random but were found through their interest in Screenagers. But, the good thing is we can still glean insights from this data about family rules.  

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Screenagers came to life for two main reasons. The first: experience and science have shown us that excessive screen time can affect kids negatively. The second: the fact that there is now such an extreme pull of screens on kids, parents need support to thoughtfully help their children to have time off screens. 

Given this is the biggest parenting issue of our time, we knew that a movie is a great start but that a real movement is needed and thus we created Tech Talk Tuesday (TTT).  WE WOULD LOVE YOUR HELP TO HAVE IT SPREAD AND HELP MORE FAMILIES. You can post it on Facebook, Twitter or email it to someone.

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