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Cell Phones, Kids, and Sleep Deprivation—One More Reason to Turn Them Off

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Dr. Meg Meeker

I was fortunate enough to have gotten two of my four kids through high school before cell phones found their way to school lockers and backpacks. But when my younger two kids landed on the high school scene, all of their friends had cell phones and I confess, it wasn’t long before mine had cell phones too. My son was at away soccer games, and I wanted my daughter to be able to call me or her dad from a date. They needed phones, I reasoned, just in case, well, anything happened that I needed to know about immediately.

Of course, my older two kids reprimanded me for spoiling the younger two. For the most part, cell phones didn’t cause me the headaches that many of you with kids and phones contend with today. We didn’t have iPhones, and it really was possible to have a phone bill for $19.99 per month. Those days are gone.

My kids used cell phones to call friends and occasionally, me. They couldn’t access the Internet at any time of day or night, order clothes, watch movies, or sneak out of the house and take videos at 3 am. But there were other problems we faced. Their friends called them—all the time. And, not wanting to be rude, my kids answered their cell phones at all hours of the day and night. I remember phones belting out songs and odd noises awakening me from a sound sleep. Sometimes they woke up, sometimes they didn’t; but being a mom, I always woke up. Over time, they awoke at odd hours, too.

I began asking parents in my office if their kids’ phones went off in the middle of the night or if my experience was unique. I quickly found out that kids routinely call one another during the night. Now, I suppose, they text more in the night than call, but the effect is the same. When someone receives a text, their phone alerts them that a message is waiting. Many kids, I realized, are having precious sleep time routinely interrupted by phones.

If I had to guesstimate, I would claim that about 50% of the teens I see in my office are tired. They are tired enough to ask me what’s wrong with them. Sleep deprivation in teens (and younger kids, too) is a real problem. Some are over-scheduled, some have their internal clocks working backwards, but most of them admit that they are awakened at night by their cell phones. I have learned (before I do expensive lab tests) to take careful inventory of their time and cell phone use to see if this could be the culprit to some of their fatigue.

When kids don’t get good sleep, they don’t benefit from all of the necessary sleep cycles and many problems ensue. They get irritable, moody, can’t study well, have poor concentration, get sick more easily and simply function more poorly.

I’ll propose a few rules for cell phone etiquette that would benefit both kids and adults alike. The first rule of good cell phone etiquette should be to never text while eating dinner and a close second should be to never call or text a friend after 11 pm or before 7 am.  If teens abided by the rules, they (and their tired parents) would spend their days in much better moods.

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