Children, Sleep and Technology: The Parent’s Guide to a Healthy Balance

Children and technology— it’s a total love connection. Together, they create a buzz in the air that can practically be felt.

And with every single connected technology in the house cranked to the max, it’s no wonder. Computers, cell phones, gaming media—the amount of energy used by these devices alone could power a small village in Norway. Not to mention the actual time your children spend "plugged in," which in turn raises a few questions when it comes to children and sleep.

Where is the demarcation line between safe, healthy digital usage and obsession? And in your case: How do you deal with a child who falls somewhere in the middle of those two camps? While your kid may not exhibit signs of digital addiction, you know that he or she is embroiled in nocturnal text fests that take place later than you would like.

Recent studies have found that teens who sacrifice sleep time for screen time are at a greater risk for sleep disorders, mood swings, anxiety and depression. Not surprisingly, these late nights also affect their ability to perform well in school and extra-curricular sports. The time second period rolls around attention spans are shot, and lethargy settles in like an uninvited guest who just won’t get the hint.

One important thing to keep in mind is that your digitally-savvy kids value their connectivity in a way that you as an "analog parent" may never fully understand. The relationships forged across social media platforms resonate on an emotional level with children. And these virtual meeting places serve as a setting for the same exciting, enlightening and entertaining exchanges that you once experienced in the McDonald’s parking lots and drive-in movie theaters of your youth.

However, that doesn’t mean that your kids should forfeit healthy cognitive function for a midnight marathon of Halo 3. Even though after-hours socializing has your young night owls texting "who, who?" long into the night, there are ways to curb this harmful behavior...

1. Check your cell phone bills or contact your carrier.

It’s as easy as that. Find out what time they’re calling, texting and receiving communication. Once you have a clear idea of what’s happening post-bedtime, you’ll know how to appropriately address the situation with your kids.

2. Draw connections between your children’s technology usage and their health.

Ask them questions about their digital practices: Have they noticed any negative effects arising from staying up late to surf the net or IM their friends? How often do they wake up in the middle of the night because someone has called or texted them? The point here is not to make accusations, rather, it’s to get your children to identify how certain aspects of their mental and physical well-being have been compromised by their habits.

3. Create a technology curfew.

Have your children hand over their connected devices every night at a pre-appointed time. Will you be hit with a deluge of groaning, punctuated by melodramatic door slams? Probably. But, will your kids eventually give up the goods without batting an eye and ultimately reap the benefits of regular, uninterrupted sleep. Absolutely.

4. Frame your household’s technology usage plan with constructive language.

This isn’t about enforcing rules and restricting digital activity so much as it’s about keeping your kids healthy. Connected devices allow them to establish a positive reputation and learn from like-minded peers on a global scale. Communicating this information to your children, while outlining the new policy, will set a positive tone.

Negative:   Positive:
Cell-phone use is forbidden after dinner.   Cell phones can be used until dinner time.
Gaming is not allowed after bedtime.  

Once homework is finished, games can be played until bedtime.

No computer after 9 p.m.   Computers can be enjoyed from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Often, even the sweetest of dreams are no match for the gadgets blinking at your children’s fingertips. But with your guidance, your kid, teen and everyone in between will learn how to use new media responsibly and start each day prepared for success.

Tips for Parents:

Rather than requiring a cell phone hand-off every night, it’s more beneficial to contact your carrier to turn off texting and phone service during certain hours. This option is a great idea for several reasons: it insures against the possibility of forgetting to take the device up the night before; the phone can still be used as an alarm clock in the morning; and, most importantly, personal limits are established—a very important skill for young people to develop.

Your children don’t need to be open for 24/7 interaction with the outside world. When a family technology curfew is established, it makes it easier for them and their friends to know when communication is possible.

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