By Grant Frend
It is no secret that we are a society closely connected, by and to technology. There are many ways that technology continues to improve our lives including: medical advancements, connection to an unlimited expanse of knowledge, exposure to music we might never have discovered, and, of course, fantasy football.
However, there may also be a cost to this hyper connectivity.
Working in a high school, I deal daily with constant student connectivity.
One of the questions I’m often asked as high school principal relates to screen time and teens. For the most part, I don’t really have clear answers for these types of questions. The one exception, however, pertains to my views regarding access to screens by tween/teens in the bedroom at night. There are a couple of important reasons why I urge parents to discourage teens from having screens in the bedroom during typical sleep hours.
First, blue light. Our devices such as iPads, cellphones, and tablets have strong concentrations of blue light, which affects the level of melatonin, the key hormone which promotes sleep.
A child who is exposed to blue light before going to bed is fighting a losing battle as melatonin production is reduced. Further, writer Meeri Kim notes that in adolescence, a teen’s circadian rhythms shift, and teens are more awake later on in the evening. Couple the circadian rhythm shift will exposure to blue light from a screen, and the result is a teen who can have real problems falling asleep. These teens are then left to try to function at school or work without having had enough sleep.
Another issue with having technology in the bedroom is the constant temptation to check status updates as well as personal notifications and texts. Self-regulation can be very difficult for many tweens/teens, and having a cellphone or tablet in the bedroom overnight can be hard to ignore.
Dr. Natasha Burgert comments that one study she read indicated teens send an average of at least 34 texts after lights out. It’s often challenging for adults to focus when a text that we can see has been read, hasn’t been answered. Imagine yourself at 14, already filled with self-doubt and anxiety, and now wondering why your friend isn’t messaging you back.
This isn’t a made up scenario, this plays itself out nightly. The pull of constant connectivity to friends is significant. Teens I’ve spoken with have indicated they stay connected at night because they are afraid that without a screen they may miss out on conversations or disappoint a peer by not responding to a message. It seems allowing a cellphone in the bedroom is akin to letting friends sleep over on school nights: nobody goes to bed early, nobody sleeps well, everybody talks all night and this often results in difficulty waking up.
So how can you work with your teen/tween to ensure a healthy sleep pattern is a priority? First, screens should be shut off about an hour before bedtime and kept out of the bedroom overnight. Next, pay attention to your teen’s sleep habits and have discussions about how your teen feels after a good night’s sleep and after a poor night’s sleep. This will help your teen develop a self-awareness about his/her own sleep needs. Finally, role model expectations. Kids pay much more attention to what we do than what we say. If your teen sees you with a screen in the bedroom the inevitable ‘why do get to have your device’ question will come. A good night’s sleep should be a goal for every member of the family.
Look, we all know there is no guarantee of a good night’s sleep for teens. The typical stress, anxiety, and activity schedules that our kids deal with can all impact the amount of sleep they get. However, removing technology from the bedroom, during typical sleep hours, can only increase the chance that our children will have an appropriate amount of sleep. We know a pattern of good sleep can lead to improved concentration, improved immune systems, and improved physical health. We owe it to our kids to give them every advantage they can get to be physically and mentally healthy. It’s time we give technology a bed time that provides our children the rest they need.
Grant Frend is principal of Thomas Haney secondary in Maple Ridge.