I hope as a starting point we can agree that your child staring at screens past bedtime on school nights is not a good thing. I find that parents are generally in unanimous support of this notion. Yet, sooo many kids are sleeping with their phones nestled next to them like their favorite blanky.
If you’re a parent of a teen, particularly an older one, getting your kids phone out of their room can be very hard to do. For a lot of teens, being told that they can no longer have their phone at night triggers such monumental anger and resistance that it can just feel too exhausting and not worth it. You may have a teen or preteen that sleeps with their phone or other device in their room because you’ve decided that it’s just not a battle you want to fight or you may believe that your child is doing well enough and it’s not an issue at this point. Either way I know you’re doing the best you can, as we all are, and there’s never one right answer to these types of issues.
However if you see this as a problem and want to find ways to address it, then keep reading. Below I’ll share why I think that if there’s just one modification you could make that would provide a monumental positive impact on your teen’s growth, getting their phone out of their room at night would be it. I’ll also share some thoughts about how to do it.
Why devices in their room after bedtime is a problem for most teens and all preteens.
The reason teenagers can drive us so crazy at times is because of their undeveloped prefrontal cortex. The PFC is responsible for planning, critical thinking and reflection. It also helps us manage our emotions. Your child’s brain is about 80 percent mature. The remaining 20 percent of development is happening in their PFC. The two most important things that the PFC needs to grow in a healthy way is sleep and limited stress and anxiety. Most teens that are up late on a school night are experiencing a double whammy of PFC deprivation. The first problem is that they’re likely on social media which, research now shows, is closely linked to increased anxiety and depression when it’s used in excess (more than 2 hours a day). The second problem is that they’re getting much less sleep than the 9 hours that their brain ideally needs. While I’m yet to meet a teen that get’s this much sleep on a school night, it’s not an all or nothing matter. The closer to 9 the better. Every 20 minutes makes a difference. A final argument that doesn’t work as well anymore has to do with the blue light that is emitted from the screens. This blue light has been shown to decrease melatonin production by up to 22%. There are apps now that filter the blue light.
I got it and I’m on board but what if they refuse?
Expect that they will. From their perspective, why wouldn’t they resist a change that they only perceive as having a cost to them with no benefit to anyone but you and your need for power and control over their life? Below are a few suggestions on how to broach this with your teen and respond to their resistance.
1. Just the facts ma’am. Teens are likely to respond to an approach where they feel that their intelligence and point of view is respected. Pass on some of the data and information I shared about their PFC, the unique importance of sleep and reducing anxiety and stress. Also, ask them to watch this video and read these articles to discuss with you. Remember, don’t lecture them. Ask questions and try to understand their experience as a teenager today.
2. Ask for their input. Teens need to be included in decision making whenever possible. After all they are, albeit slowly, transitioning into adulthood. Start with a baseline for negotiation such as their phone turned in by 9 and charging in the kitchen. Their compromise maybe 930 and they charge it outside their door. I know, they may bring it into their room anyway, then you go back to the negotiating table and try to figure out why it didn’t work and what needs to be done differently.
3. Focus on values and happiness. Your teen is way more likely to comply with your requests if you clarify that this is about your values around rest and happiness not control. They will literally be smarter and happier if their brain gets more sleep.
4. Be prepared to model it. You will have a ton more credibility if you’re also willing to charge your phone in another room next to your child’s. This may feel like a sacrifice to you but the benefits to your teen’s well being should be worth it.
5. Follow through. This will be hard at first and as I mentioned you will get resistance (if they act too compliant, I’d be concerned). So be prepared to stick with it and make it clear that this is going to happen but you’re willing to discuss how and when.
I know this is a really hard issue and there are many layers to it that make it complicated. The number one thing is, don’t judge yourself as a bad parent if your kid is spending too much time on their phones, it’s a super common issue that most parents have and it doesn’t come with a simple solution. Once your child starts to notice how much better they feel as they trade drama and distraction for sleep, they’ll appreciate the plan. Just don’t expect them to admit it.