Why Parents Should Take Away Cell Phones at Night

More often than not parents and educators feel that children spend too much time on their cell phones and other mobile devices, leading to the idea of taking cell phones away at night. This notion is supported by the research, young people spend an overwhelming amount of time on their phones.

Should parents take away cell phones at night? Yes. Parents should take away their child’s cell phone at night. Doing so allows children to complete homework without distractions and sleep soundly without disruptions. Keeping cell phones in a common area can also cut down on behavioral problems and disorders caused by too much cell phone use.

Thinking of your own cell phone use, do you use it as an alarm? How many times does your phone wake you up during the night from notifications chiming and text messages? How many hours do you spend on your mobile device in a twenty-four hour period? Have you found that your relationships have changed?

Now think of a kid who gets way more messages than you do. They may not have the self-control to ignore each notification. How do you think their cell phone use impacts them? To start, we know that increased use of mobile devices has led teens to struggle with relationships. Their relationships have become less personable, and they are more robotic with fewer emotions attached.

To help manage use, parents should monitor their child’s time online. The NetGear Night Hawk router is an easy to use tool to help you keep an eye on your kids online. It is automatically enabled with Circle’s parental controls so you can easily manage content and time online for any connected device.

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The Benefits of Taking Away A Child’s Cell Phone at Night

As a parent, you want to do what is best for your child, and one of the most important things is to make sure that they are getting enough sleep. All kids, including teenagers, should get eight to ten hours of sleep each night. A lack of sleep can lead to problems learning new material, unhealthy eating, substance abuse, behavior problems, and health issues (source). So, how does cell phone use affect sleep? 

Many people worry that sleeping with a cell phone next to your body can cause adverse health facts due to electromagnetic fields or radiofrequency energy. It has been shown in a study that this is not the case. The study compared people who did and did not sleep with a cell phone next to them, and found that the electromagnetic fields were below the ICNIRP reference level for both groups (source). 

This means that whether you sleep with your phone next to you or not you are not subjecting your body to enough electromagnetic fields to cause adverse health concerns. However, electromagnetic levels are not the only thing to be concerned about if your child sleeps with their cell phones next to them.  

Many teenagers use their cell phone as an alarm. At first glance, this doesn’t seem as if it would be a problem. However, as your child is trying to sleep with multiple notifications and text messages going off throughout the night waking them up, the disruption to their sleep can have a significant impact on their mental and physical health.

A study that was published in 2014 showed that one-third of students text after going to bed and eight percent were awoken by their phones (source). Think about how that number has increased since then.

By keeping your child’s phone in a common area while they are sleeping you are helping to ensure that they get a good night sleep without unnecessary distractions.  

A lack of sleep due to cell phone use is not the only way that cell phones can lead to behavioral issues and substance abuse. When people think about addiction, they often think about alcohol, nicotine, illegal drugs, and opioid use. They don’t think about addictive behaviors that can lead to more serious addictions later. 

© Yusef Shamsuden

Some people are addicted to their phones, shopping, gaming, gambling, food, and work. The basis of all addictions is that they control you. It is hard to overcome addiction because it changes the way your mind works.  

Think about your child’s use of their cell phone. Are they looking at it every few minutes to see if they have a notification? Are they worried about how many likes their latest picture got, or how many times it was shared? 

Addiction and abuse of cell phones has shown to be associated with anxiety, self-esteem problems, issues with self-image, and even possibly depression. This makes sense when looking at the questions posed. A study published in 2016 found a relationship between cell phone abuse and substance abuse (source).  

As parents, it is hard to believe that your child’s cell phone addiction could have a correlation with them being addicted to drugs later in life, but it can. Thinking about this way, it makes sense because at the root of both is an addictive behavior. If someone has a hard time with one addiction, they are more prone to other addictions. 

By taking your child’s phone away at night you slowing things down for their growing brains, and are helping to curb any abuse or addiction issues that may be starting or occurring.  

Not all issues stemming from cell phone use are as serious as behavior problems and substance abuse, but should still be considered. As a teacher, I am often told by my students and their parents that they just couldn’t find enough time to complete their homework.

Upon further investigation, I usually find that while they didn’t have time to work on their homework they had plenty of time to be on facebook, twitter, snap chat, youtube, etc. I now ask my students and their parents to find thirty minutes to complete their homework for my class, and ask that the student’s cell phone is not near them. 

After the thirty minutes is up if they have not completed their homework they are supposed to put it away and see me first thing the next day. My students are amazed at how much quicker their homework gets done when they follow this suggestion.

Many of them have also found that they understand the material more because they are not being distracted by notifications, calls, or texts and can concentrate on the material and comprehend what is in front of them.

Most people work better when they are not trying to multitask, and that is exactly what children are doing when they try to do homework and pay attention to their cell phones at the same time.

How Much Time Should be Kids Allowed on a Cell Phone Per Day?

Kids need help managing their cell phone use. There is too much temptation involved in being constantly connected to their friends and interests to reasonably expect them to be able to manage that responsibility. By no means am I saying that you should never let your child have their phone while they are at home in the evening. 

However, if their use is unchecked they will use their phone much more than they need to. A survey of teens showed that forty-five percent say that they are on their cell phones constantly (source). 

Often times, they aren’t really doing anything on their cell phone,  but they are just checking to see if anything has changed in their world no matter how small of an event it might be. 

Most of this can wait while your child is doing homework or sleeping. My suggestion is to have a spot in a shared common area that your child puts their cell phone while they are working on homework and sleeping.  

Your child may say that they need to use their cell phone for their homework. However, if you have a computer available, have your child use it to complete their homework instead of their cell phones. While there are distractions on the computer, it is easier for you to monitor what applications and websites they are on.

It is very easy for a child to hear a parent coming and close out of the app that has nothing to do with their homework on their cell phone. Also, teens are less likely to use applications such as Instagram and SnapChat while they are on a computer that is shared with the family. It is also easier on your child’s eyes to look at and work on a computer screen than to squint to see what is on their cell phone screens.  

Beyond putting phones in a specific location during homework time and sleeping it should be up to individual parents as to how much time their child is on their cell phone. Thirty minutes per day is a healthy place to start.

While you are deciding how much time you are going to allow your child to be on their cell phone keep in mind what they are using the phone for and how is it affecting their overall health and well being.   

How Cell Phone Use Affects Relationships

When thinking about how cell phone use influences relationships the first thing that comes to many people’s mind is cyberbullying.  Cyberbullying has become a huge issue among teens. It is easier to bully someone when the parties are not physically together.

Further, without the technology facilitating constant connection and contact, the kids involved would have the chance to go home and get their mind off of people from school.

Cyberbullying is not the only risk to consider. In today’s world having a cell phone changes how you connect with other people around the world.  Think about how you got in touch with your friends as a kid. Depending on your age you may have had a cell phone, but it wasn’t a smartphone with all of the apps that instantly connected you to thousands of people. 

You generally found the person you wanted to talk to or called them to have a conversation. If it was someone who lived farther away or even around the world you sent a letter or an email and waited for them to respond. Today, much of the communication by youth is sent in emojis and abbreviations. 

Further, nobody wants to wait for communication anymore, they want people to respond instantly. Having your phone next to you at all times allows for this to happen. When was the last time your child called a friend and had an actual conversation?  

Another risk is social media. While using social media on their smartphones helps teens stay connected with more people, these connections are not always meaningful or positive. The young mind may confuse the instant feedback they receive as meaningful, but often times its not. A recently conducted found that twenty-four percent of respondents felt that using social media mainly had a negative effect on their lives.

In that survey, of those who thought social media had a negative impact on society, seventeen percent said that social media was harmful to relationships and resulted in less meaningful relationships with a distorted view of reality (source).  If your child doesn’t have meaningful relationships with people growing up what will happen to their overall wellbeing? 

So, not only should you watch the amount of time your child spends on their phone, but you should also be watching what they are doing on their phones. Try to schedule a time for them to have meaningful conversations and make connections without technology inserted into the middle of everything they do.

What are the Health Concerns Associated With Cell Phones?

© Shannon VanDenHeuvel

As stated earlier, based on what we know now, the act of having your cell phone in your room at night while you are sleeping does not cause adverse health concerns due to electromagnetic fields. However, there are other concerns to consider when having your cell phone or any other electronic device in your bedroom while you are sleeping.

The light on electronic devices, including clocks and televisions, has been shown to reduce melatonin, which helps you fall and stay asleep and controls your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is your sleep/wake cycle, and it is important to help keep it regular so that you are not drowsy when you should be awake and wide awake when you should be going to bed.

It is suggested that you put down all electronics at least thirty minutes before going to bed to keep your rhythm and producing enough melatonin (source).

There are additional health concerns regarding cell phones that do not deal with sleep that are continually being studied. Cell phones, and now smartphones have not been around that long, so while it is early in the study stages some concerns have been brought forward about cancer and brain tumors. 

These concerns stem from the fact that there is radiofrequency energy emitted from the antenna. Many people are concerned that by holding the phone next to your head you are absorbing more radiofrequency energy that what is considered an acceptable amount. There is debate over how close the phone needs to be to your head while you are talking for you to absorb the maximum amount of radiofrequency energy.

However, while some studies have shown that there is a correlation between cell phone use and cancer no one has been able to replicate those studies.  Most studies find that there is not a correlation between the two (source). If you are concerned about any connection between cell phone use and cancer it would be wise to use the speakerphone option as much as possible. This is also another reason to keep cell phones out of the bedroom at night.

One’s mental health should also be taken into consideration. More focus and attention is being brought to mental health, and we need to consider how the use of cell phones contribute to mental health challenges. 

While it is not the cell phone itself that causes mental health issues, the applications that your child is using that can contribute to mental illness. 

As stated earlier, cell phone use can cause anxiety, problems with self-image, addiction issues, and in the most extreme cases depression. For a child who is concerned about what others think about them, they will be looking for likes and shares on social media, and if they don’t get them, they will be discouraged and wonder what is wrong with them. 

On the other hand, they may be bullied for things that they post. All of this can impact a child’s self-esteem and take them down the road of mental illness. As a parent, you should be concerned and checking what your child is doing on their phone. It is not always the phone that is the problem, but what your child does with the phone. It is your job as the parent to help them manage that in a positive manner.

How Much Screen Time Should Children Have

© Boudewijin Huysmans

Screen time means all types of screens; TV’s, computers, tablets, and mobile devices.  The younger the child the less screen time they should have.

Children under six should only be using technology for educational purposes.  After six years of age, parents should still focus on using technology for educational purposes but can incorporate non-educational applications.  Keep an eye on what your child is doing, and be mindful of cyberbullying.

In my home, there is no screen time allowed at all on most days. When there is, we limit it to 30-60 minutes.

Should Parents Take Electronics Away as Punishment?

It should be an available option. Parents should only take away electronics as punishment if it fits the crime.  If the electronics are not the problem, then maybe an alternative consequence would be better.

To make sure that the electronics are not the problem parents need to set limits. Do not wait until the device is making you mad to decide that you don’t want your child to use it. Set clear boundaries and punishments in advance. If the boundaries are broken in regards to electronics, then it is okay to take the electronic away as punishment.

Final Thoughts on Children Using Cell Phones

Whether the child in question is 7 or 17, if they are a minor in your care they are a child and need support from the responsible adults in their lives. The human brain does not fully develop until age 25 (source). Up until the brain develops, young people make decisions with the emotional part of the brain, because the logical part of the brain is the last to develop.

With this science in mind, it stands to reason that kids will not always make the best long-term choices. It is the responsibility of the parent to ensure that the child learns right from wrong. One of the best ways to do this is to have strong and healthy behavioral boundaries in place. Limits on device use fit well within that parental responsibility. I hope it is something you will consider.

Dr. Patrick Capriola

Dr. Patrick Capriola is the founder of strategiesforparents.com. He is an expert in parenting, social-emotional development, academic growth, dropout prevention, educator professional development, and navigating the school system. He earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of Florida in 2014. His professional experience includes serving as a classroom teacher, a student behavior specialist, a school administrator, and an educational trainer - providing professional development to school administrators and teachers, helping them learn to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of students. He is focused on growing strategiesforparents.com into a leading source for high-quality research-based content to help parents work through the challenges of raising a family and progressing through the school system.

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Should parents take away cell phones at night? Yes. Parents should take away their child’s cell phone at night. Doing so allows children to complete homework without distractions and sleep soundly without disruptions. Keeping cell phones in a common area can also cut down on behavioral problems and disorders caused by too much cell phone use.