Your teen turns to his phone for fun, entertainment and connection.
But paradoxically, researchers are saying phone use, especially late at night, could be impacting not only the quality of your teen’s sleep, but could be nudging him toward depression as well.
More than one thousand Australian students ages 13-16 were studied by Murcoch University, Perth researchers, who said late-night cell phone use – including both texting and calling – were associated with negative mental states such as depression and reduced coping ability.
Sleep and the Depression Linked; Now Phone Use is Included, Too
Poor sleep, or lack of an overall quantity of sleep, have both been associated for some time with a variety of negative physical and mental effects.
But this is the first study to definitively link both with mobile phone use, particularly in children.
“Heavy mobile phone use becomes a problem when it overtakes essential aspects of adolescent life,” noted Dr. Lynette Vernon, who spearheaded the study. “In this case, we see issues when it overtakes time set-aside for sleep. We found that late night phone use directly contributed to poor sleep habits, which over time led to declines in overall wellbeing and mental health.”
The research constitutes “the first longitudinal study [investigating] how night phone use and mental health [are] connected,” according to researchers.
Self-Esteem, Coping Could Both Suffer
The study included more than 1100 Australian students from 29 schools and was issued in survey format.
According to Dr. Vernon, negative mental health consequences associated with late-night texting and calling included lowered self-esteem, reduced coping mechanisms, and depression.
Students were quizzed on how many calls and texts they received and what times of night they received and sent calls and texts.
Alarmingly, the negative mental health issues appeared to increase as study participants got older, Dr. Vernon and study co-author study co-author Kathryn Modecki noted.
In addition to heavy late night phone-using students feeling more depressed, they acted out more, according to study researchers.
Dealing With the Problem
In a world where adults are as attached to their devices as kids are, it can be hard to put the breaks on, experts note.
However, parents and kids can meet halfway to come up with solutions, which are bound to be more complex than simply taking the phone away, study researchers noted.
“There are many potential benefits of mobile technology, but these results demonstrate the importance of adults ‘meeting teens where they are’, enforcing electronic curfews, and teaching good sleep habits during the high school years,” Dr. Vernon said in a press release.
Try these steps to rein in the problem while allowing for technology’s important role among students.
- Give limited total time on the phone per day. Install a tracking app if necessary, but tell your child you’re doing this; don’t “secretly spy” on your children, as this will decrease trust and may lead to sneaking around and other negative behaviors.
- Have a nighttime curfew on phone use and don’t allow kids to take their phones to bed. Have them set up the phone to charge overnight in another room.
- Find alternative entertainment for your kids. Encourage them to make friends; take them for bike rides, hikes, to museums or just on a walk through town or at your local arboretum. Get your child involved in a sport or in music lessons, and attend these for support. It’s healthy for the kids AND you to get off ALL electronics periodically throughout the day.
- Have a lights-out bedtime curfew and make sure your child is obeying it; walk past her bedroom and make sure her lights are actually out (and that you don’t see the glow of a tablet, phone or laptop under the crack of her door).
- Be understanding, not harsh or over-restrictive. Adults and kids alike are part of today’s age of technology, and technology can be addictive. Let your child know you’re instituting rules for her health and happiness, not to restrict her or put a crimp in her day (or night).