Teens, Smartphones, and Bedrooms
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
In our parents presentations, we talk about the fact that given the mobile convenience of smartphones, it is not uncommon that teens will sleep with their phones, and other mobile devices like gaming consoles and laptops, in their bedrooms. Although issues surrounding the misuse of this technology, especially by pre-teens, in the privacy of their bedroom unsupervised are a concern, we are also worried about the effect that the use of these smartphones and other digital devices at night, or what the teens call “vamping,” has on sleep, circadian timing, and next morning alertness. Having now presented to thousands of educators in both Canada and the USA, they have advised us that with the easy access to smartphones they have seen an increase in some students who are now coming to school tired, which is having a negative effect on learning.
Although the reports we have heard from educators on this issue are anecdotal, there has been some evidence-based peer reviewed research that supports these observations as to the “why” of what educators are seeing specific to the effects of vamping on daytime alertness.
We were unable to locate any research or numbers to help inform us about the prevalence of teens who both bring and use their cellphones at night in their bedrooms. Given this fact, we decided to ask the teens who follow us so that we could attach some empirical numbers to this identified challenge. Although we are aware of some of the limitations of self-reporting data and convenience sampling, we still think it gives us a good snapshot of what many of our teens are doing, or not, with their cellphones at night in their bedrooms.
We decided to ask our 6,754 Instagram followers, who are mostly teens, for their input. We asked them to answer 4 basic questions, and within a 24-hour period, over 700 people replied. Here are the results:
“Do you sleep with your phone in your bedroom?”
734 teens replied:
575 said yes (78%)
159 said no (22%)
“Do you answer messages on your phone that come through during the night?”
195 said yes (27%)
533 said no (73%)
“Do you text at night in your bedroom with your cellphone?”
244 said yes (46%)
286 said no (54%)
“Where do you keep your phone when you sleep?”
94 (31%): Bedside table/surface near head of bed
55 (18%): Other side of room on a shelf or desk
52 (17%): Under pillow, in bed, in hand
23 (7%): On floor by/under bed
79 (26%): Another part of house, including the family room, kitchen, or parent’s bedroom
So, given these empirical self-reported numbers, here’s what we have taken from those who connected with us. Not surprisingly, over three quarters (78%) of them do sleep with their phones in their rooms. Just over half three quarters (55%) stated that these phones were within arm’s reach when they go to bed. Half of those who responded (50%) stated that they text on their phones at night in their bedrooms.
Based upon the above noted information, what we have been hearing from educators, and the current evidence-based research to date, we do think that there is a correlation (not a causation) between cellphone use in bedrooms at night as it relates to next-day alertness challenges and the effects on learning. It is for this reason that until further peer-reviewed research is done on this correlation, we recommend that parents should re-think allowing their younger teens to have access to smartphones in their bedrooms at night. This is especially true for those pre-teens and teens who are exhibiting problematic internet/social media usage, or if teachers are reporting that it is not uncommon for your child to have challenges staying awake in class.
Although we focused on the issues of sleep deprivation, circadian timing and next morning alertness, there is also a risk of less than desirable online behaviour when teens, especially pre-teens and younger teens, are using their cellphones at night in the privacy of their bedrooms. Anecdotally, many cases that we get involved in to help teens and parents as social media investigators where something bad happened online look like this: teen (primarily pre-teens and younger teens) possessing a cellphone in their bedrooms at night, unsupervised with internet access. It is for this reason that we also recommend that teens not be allowed to have mobile technology in their bedrooms at night until they can prove to parents that they are showing good digital literacy over time and have the ability to self-manage their devices at night.