I was asked recently, what is the most worrying trend that I see in the bedrooms of teens and tweens these days? Without doubt, it is mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets that are kept turned on all night while recharging, usually placed next to the bed or even under the pillow so that messages can quickly and easily be checked.
The four main problems associated with this are:
- Tiredness (caused by waking up to check the device)
- Insomnia (caused by interrupted melatonin production)
- Wi-Fi exposure (because the device is polling for signals all night long)
- Electromagnetic field exposure (because the device is plugged into mains electricity to recharge)
What a survey revealed
A 2016 survey of 2,750 pupils revealed some alarming facts. Commissioned by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents the top independent schools in the UK and Ireland, it found that 45% of 11-18 year-olds check their mobile device at least once after they go to bed, and 23% of these check more than ten times per night. Being woken ten times per night would be classed as a form of torture if it were inflicted rather than self-chosen!
68% of pupils admitted that the use of mobile devices at night impairs their ability to study the next day. What many are not aware of is that keeping a device so close to the body all night, every night, also exposes them to high levels of radiofrequency signals (Wi-Fi) and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) which can impact their health and cause them to have busy thoughts that prevent deep levels of rest even if they never check for updates.
Teens and tweens want to stay connected to their friends. Connected is cool. But being online 24/7 is not sustainable. Something has to give, and it’s usually health or vitality. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and the dopamine highs that make social media so addictive are factors in why it’s difficult to break the habit. But doing so is very empowering. It teaches young people to make their own choices instead of succumbing to peer pressure, and fosters greater self-confidence.
Some schools are now offering sleep lessons to educate pupils about the importance of rest, and Digital Awareness UK has also come up with a list of recommendations that include:
- No screentime within 90 minutes of bedtime
- Turn the device to airplane mode or off during the hours of sleep
- Recharge the device far away from the bed or, better still, in another room
- Use an app to reduce the blue light emitted by devices after nightfall so that melatonin production is not affected
An idea that is catching on is for parents to make a clear contract with their teen or tween, such as this one: To my 13-year-old, an iPhone contract from your mom, with love
And you’ll need to lead by example, of course. You can’t expect them to make lifestyle changes unless you do so first!
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