My adult son is a popular Tik Tok creator whose videos have had millions of views. So when he decided to hold an all-night live event, I planned to watch—at least for a while.
At the time, there was a trend where Tik Tokers would hold live events to watch them sleep. (Yes, my adult mind still doesn’t understand it.) My son thought it would be funny to set up his creepy Charley McCarthy ventriloquist doll outside his bedroom door, and asked viewers to watch to make sure the doll didn’t move. (The doll was sitting in a chair with a hammer, lighter, and razor.)
It didn’t take long, and suddenly there were tens of thousands of viewers watching and commenting on the live event. Before the event ended at 5 am, there had been 1.8 million viewers.
It was a huge success for my son, but extremely concerning for me as a parent. Many of the comments were “Oh man, I have to get up in 3 hours to go to school.” Another said, “Yeah, and I have a big test tomorrow.” Others said, “I can’t stop watching this.” Even more disturbing was the fact that hundreds of viewers were giving out their personal phone numbers—to total strangers!
Before this event, I had heard that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that parents not allow any kind of electronics—TV, video games, tablets, laptops, or smartphones—in their children’s bedrooms. I had also read that experts recommended a technology curfew where kids had to leave all of their portable tech devices in their parents’ bedroom an hour or two before bedtime. But before this event, I hadn’t really understood why. Now I totally get it. Here are 5 reasons why kids should not be allowed to keep their phones in their bedrooms at night.
1. Screens at Night Can Cause Sleep Deprivation Which Can Lead to Health Problems
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, children and teens need significantly more sleep than adults because they’re growing both mentally and physically. They recommend that children ages 6 to 12 get 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night; and teenagers ages 13 to 18 get 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.1 Unfortunately, only half of U.S. children get enough sleep, and that can cause serious health and mental problems.2
First, kids are losing one to four hours of sleep each night just being on their phones. They’re texting, engaging on social media, surfing the web, and who knows what else. According to a 2014 study, 80 percent of teens admitted to being on their phones when their parents thought they were asleep.3 One 2010 study showed that students, ages 8-22, sent an average of 34 texts and emails a night after going to bed. 4
Then, after falling asleep, kids are often awakened by the pinging of text messages and notifications—which they feel compelled to respond. A 2019 study by Common Sense Media found that one-third of teens wake up in the middle of the night, and check their phones.5
In addition, staring at a glowing screen right before sleep stops the release of the hormone melatonin, which helps you fall asleep and then stay asleep.6 And to exacerbate the problem, answering texts and scrolling social media is stimulating which can release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol —which keep you alert.7 Together, that leaves kids sleep deprived and chronic sleep loss contributes to all kinds of problems such as:
Behavior problems and aggression
Poor school performance
Depression and moodiness
Stress and anxiety
Lack of energy and alertness
High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, irregular heartbeat, and diabetes
Sleep terrors, nightmares, sleepwalking, and bedwetting
Increased risk of suicide8
2. Online Safety
There’s also the issue of online safety. Law enforcement officials estimate that more than 50,000 sexual predators are online at any given moment.9 I cringe when I think of all those Tik Tok viewers giving out their personal phone numbers with the comment, “Hey, somebody call me.”
With all of the seedy dating apps, chat rooms, social media, and porn, it’s just too easy to get into trouble. And while we want to trust our kids that they will use good judgement, the fact is, that part of their brain is not fully developed yet. In the book Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids: the One Brain Book You Need to Help Your Child Grow Brighter, Healthier, and Happier , Dr. David Walsh says that the prefrontal cortex is still developing throughout the teen years, and is the part of the brain that “helps us to think ahead, consider consequences, and manage emotional impulses and urges.”10 That may explain why 22% of teenage girls say they have posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves online.11
3. The Inevitability of Porn
Tom Kirsting, author of Disconnected: How to Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids is often asked, “At what age should you get your child a smartphone?” His answer is “Whenever you feel comfortable with your child viewing porn.” His point is, if your kids have a smartphone, they will most inevitably see porn.
According to GuardChild, 90% of children ages 8 to 16 have seen online porn; and the average child is viewing porn by age 11.12 Netnanny reports that 10% of 7th graders believe they are addicted to porn and can’t stop viewing it.13
4. Tech-savvy Kids Can Bypass Parental Controls
If you think your kids are safe because you have parental controls, think again. Resourceful kids know all kinds of ways to bypass, delete, or disable parental controls, and they pass that knowledge around. (A quick Google search will teach kids dozens of ways to circumvent parental controls—even if they don’t know your passcode!)
For instance, on Apple iPhones, kids can reset their phones and set up a new Apple ID, thus avoiding all previous parental controls. Or, they can use iMessage to watch off-limit YouTube videos. Or, they can download a different browser, hide it in a folder, and totally evade the other browser’s controls. There are dozens of other hacks and workarounds as well.14
5. The Infinite Scrolling Feature is Designed to Be Addictive
Let’s face it. It’s hard to stop looking at our phones. Just last night, I intended to quickly check my emails right before bed, and ended up on Tik Tok until after midnight!
Was it my lack of self-control, or something more? According to Silicon Valley insiders, the infinite scrolling feature found on social media apps was deliberately designed to keep people hooked and scrolling continuously.15
This method of displaying information activates the dopamine system in our brains. We naturally want to know what’s next. The infinite scroll is a psychological strategy that makes it difficult to look away.16 So even if you have great kids with remarkable self-control, the addictive nature of infinite scrolling is hard to resist.
While it might be unrealistic to permanently take away our kids’ smartphones, we should certainly establish wise limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends creating media-free zones in our homes such as the dinner table and kids’ bedrooms.17 A technology curfew, where all tech devices are left in the parents’ bedroom overnight, will prevent a host of problems. Plus, it will give kids the opportunity to develop the love of reading before bed, or just have quiet time to think and dream. To learn more about technology guidelines for kids, read chapter 10 of Proactive Discipline by Katie Ely.
1. “American Academy of Pediatrics Supports Childhood Sleep Guidelines.” AAP.org, 13 June 2016, www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Supports-Childhood-Sleep-Guidelines.aspx.
2. Curley, Christopher. “Only Half of U.S. Children Get Enough Sleep: Why That’s a Serious Problem.” Healthline, 24 Oct. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/children-lack-of-sleep-health-problems
3. Twenge, Jean. “Analysis: Teens Are Sleeping Less. Why? Smartphones.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 19 Oct. 2017, www.pbs.org/newshour/science/analysis-teens-are-sleeping-less-why-smartphones.
4. Adams, Rebecca. “5 Reasons Kids Shouldn't Sleep Near Their Devices.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 28 July 2015, www.huffpost.com/entry/5-reasons-kids-shouldnt-sleep-near-their-devices_n_55b24b75e4b0a13f9d183404.
5. Morris, Betsy. “Many Teens Check Their Phones in Middle of Night.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 29 May 2019, www.wsj.com/articles/many-teens-check-their-phones-in-middle-of-night-11559102460.
6. Andrew, Elise. “Why Screen Time Before Bed Is Bad for Children.” IFLScience, IFLScience, 11 Mar. 2019, www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/why-screen-time-bed-bad-children/.
7. Curley, Christopher. “Only Half of U.S. Children Get Enough Sleep: Why That’s a Serious Problem.” Healthline, 24 Oct. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/children-lack-of-sleep-health-problems
8. Curley, Christopher. “Only Half of U.S. Children Get Enough Sleep: Why That’s a Serious Problem.” Healthline, 24 Oct. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health-news/children-lack-of-sleep-health-problems
9. “Internet Statistics.” GuardChild, GuardChild, www.guardchild.com/statistics/.
10. Walsh, David Allen. Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids: The One Brain Book You Need to Help Your Child Grow Brighter, Healthier, and Happier. Atria, 2013.
11. “Internet Statistics.” GuardChild, GuardChild, www.guardchild.com/statistics/.
12. “Internet Statistics.” GuardChild, GuardChild, www.guardchild.com/statistics/.
13. MacLaughlin, Kristin. “The Detrimental Effects of Pornography on Small Children.” Net Nanny, Net Nanny, 19 Dec. 2017, https://www.netnanny.com/blog/the-detrimental-effects-of-pornography-on-small-children/
14. Albergotti, Reed. “Teens Find Circumventing Apple's Parental Controls Is Child's Play.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Oct. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/10/15/teens-find-circumventing-apples-parental-controls-is-childs-play/.
15. Andersson, Hilary. “Social Media Apps Are 'Deliberately' Addictive to Users.” BBC Panorama, 4 July 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-44640959
16. Eyal, Nir. “Infinite Scroll: The Web's Slot Machine.” Psychology Today, 29 Aug. 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/automatic-you/201208/infinite-scroll-the-webs-slot-machine
17. “American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children's Media Use.” AAP.org, 21 Oct. 2016, www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Announces-New-Recommendations-for-Childrens-Media-Use.aspx.