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Screen Test: Is Using a Mobile Device Before Bed Actually Bad For Your Teen?
It’s no secret. There’s been lots of research on the effects of using mobile phones and devices before bedtime. Not much of it has anything positive to report on the matter. In fact, the research suggests mobile usage after 10.00 pm can increase feelings of loneliness and depression. Researchers have also claimed that scrolling through Twitter and Instagram feeds etc late at night could cause additional psychological problems such as bipolar disorder and neuroticism. Not great for the tech industry, of course.
The thing is, however, that despite all the negative publicity mobile phones in particular have received, some of the more recent research is actually questioning their perceived negative effects on wellbeing and mental health. Researchers at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Health (RCPCH) have found nothing harmful about the phones themselves.
Instead, they’ve suggested that screen use could be damaging in so far as it can interferes with more beneficial activities such as exercising, sleeping and eating. The fact that youngsters may be spending more time on social media than on these activities may be the real root of the problem. Even so, the college supports the recommendations that children should refrain from screen usage an hour before bed.
In support of screen time (or at least not fully against it)
Not only this, but recently, a study which appeared in the journal Psychological Science is disputing some of the claims made about the effects of pre-bedtime screen time on the mental health and wellbeing of young people. The research, which analysed the screen use of 17 000 teenagers across Britain, the US and Europe, found no direct psychological link between their wellbeing and the use of screens before bedtime. The study also determined that the impact of screen use was ‘miniscule’ compared to the other areas of the teens’ lives.
One of the major driving forces behind this new research was that the consideration that previous research, which had been based on self-reported usage, was unreliable. The researchers felt heavy internet users could underestimate the time they spend, whereas non-frequent users may overestimate it. With this in mind, they combined time-use diaries and self-reported measures to provide more accurate estimations of the time the users spent online. They also applied medical best practices to keep the research impartial and prevent any modifications to data that could make them appear more sensational.
So if you’ve been thinking of putting a TV in your child’s room and planning to buy a bed that from Bedstar or elsewhere that accommodates this, it appears that the impact of screens on a young person’s mental health and wellbeing could be down to how usage affects their lifestyle. It would seem the physical device itself is not necessarily to blame.
How to persuade your teens to get more sleep
As a parent, you worry about all things relating to your children. You worry about how they spend their time online (and about who might be on the other side of the screen) and about their well being. Are they eating the right things? Are they eating enough, even?
You find yourself becoming concerned about their sleeping habits, too. They’re naturally rebellious and don’t like someone telling them what to do. That includes someone telling them when to go to bed and they’ll happily stay up until after midnight if you let them (and regardless of whether you let them).
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers aged between 14 and 17 should sleep between 8 and 10 hours per night, whereas younger children of between 6 and 13 should get 9 to 11 hours. Young adults of between 18 and 25 should look for 7 to 9 hours.
If they’re not fulfilling these quotas, however, the question is: how do you get them to sleep more?
Educate them on the effects of not sleeping enough
You’ve got to educate them, but you have to make it relevant to their lifestyle, which you do by letting them know the shorter-term impact of not sleeping enough. Telling them that in 10 years time they’ll be fat and depressed because they don’t get enough sleep is likely to fall on deaf ears — if it’s not doing so already. If, however, you were to mention that it could affect their skin or harm their performance on the sports field or in exams, they’ll be all ears.
Teach them time management skills
Think back to when you were a teenager and the times you burnt the candle at both ends, either cramming for an exam or writing an essay. Remember how stressed you were at the time? You’d never want that for your own teenagers, so teach them how to manage their time more effectively. They may be finding it hard to juggle studies with extracurricular activities, such as sports, drama or other clubs, or with working a part-time job. If you work out a schedule and they’re still having trouble, it’s time for them to drop an activity.
Persuade them to go easy on the caffeine
It’s no secret that caffeine lends people an energy boost. The thing is, it’s not just fizzy drinks or the more obvious caffeine-packed drinks, such as coffee, that contain the stimulant. Teens are prone to drinking Red Bull, Lucozade and other sports or energy drinks to pep themselves up. Not all parents realise the amount of caffeine they contain. If you notice your teen drinking a considerable amount of caffeine-loaded drinks, make them cut down on them so they’ll sleep more.
Adjust your family’s routines
You don’t have to control every aspect of your teenager’s life, but there are areas you can influence via the family routine, which you can adapt naturally to help them get more sleep. For instance, instead of walking the dog in the evening, switch this to the morning so that they don’t spend oversleep, nor will they have less time to study in the evening or do other activities that would force them to go to bed later.
Another thing you could do is shift around mealtimes. Eat your evening meal while it’s still light outside. If your teen fancies a snack, make sure that it won’t disturb their stomach and, consequently, their sleep.
Collect their devices before they go to bed
Although more coercive than persuasive, if you think your teen is spending too much time on their phone or their tablet and staying up too late because of it, collect their devices before they go to bed. Designate a basket or box where family members can store away their phones at a set time each evening. There’s no doubt your teen will try it on and make excuses for keeping the device(s) in their room, but stay firm and then return their devices in the morning. It’s for their own good, after all, and although they might not see it like that at the time, they’ll realise it further down the line.
From the research it would appear that using screens before bedtime might not have the damaging effect they were first considered to have on the mental health and wellbeing of teenagers. Potentially, it’s a question of disruption rather than harm which could have consequences for their health.
That said, researchers still aren’t suggesting that parents give their their teenagers carte blanche to use devices whenever it suits them and for as long as it suits them, so perhaps the answer would be to look out for your teenager and observe their lifestyle and behaviours. If you suspect that screen usage before bedtime is having a detrimental impact, speak to them and implement the measures above.