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Cell Phones for Children | What parents need to know
Cell Phones

  • Late-night screen time puts teens' sleep and mental health at risk.  Nighttime usage of a cell phone can increase anxiety and depression in teenagers and reduce self-esteem, according to a new study in the journal Child Development.  This is the first study that shows a direct link between screen time and mental health.

    Fifty percent of teens report feeling addicted to their cellphones, and the new study shows nighttime usage of a cellphone can increase anxiety and depression in teenagers and reduce self-esteem.  This is the first study that shows a direct link between screen time and mental health.  This shows us that teens using their phone late at night leads to disrupted sleep which leads to increased depression, emotional fragility and sometimes acting out.

    Cell Phones Disrupt Teen Sleep
        •    Phone time replaces sleep
        •    Screen light suppresses melatonin
        •    Content stimulates the brain
        •    Depressed teens use social media more

    Researchers note that rates of anxiety and depression in young people have risen 70% over the past couple of decades.  Psychologist Lisa Damour said that what's important about this study is that it shows a "pathway" between using cellphones at night and disrupted sleep.  "Even if they're having a great time, even if they're being super appropriate on their phone, if the phone is getting in the way of sleep they need, it still causes harm.”

    Damour gave several tips for parents who want to decrease their teens' cell phone usage and how screen time affects important sleep habits.  She recommends,

    1. One of the first things a parent can do is try to get ahead of the problem by instituting certain habits when kids are young.

    2. Put a power strip in your bedroom, have all the technology charged in the parents' room overnight. Make that the default family habit.

    3. Parents need to try to set the same example, by modeling good habits.  Parents have to be good about their own phones and technology and their own sleep.
    The study focuses on teenage girls, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of losing sleep. According to Damour, teen girls already got less sleep than teenage boys even before technology.

    "What this new study makes us much more concerned about is: 
    Sleep is already fragile for teenage girls. So, we want to make sure that technology doesn't interfere with any teenager's sleep but we want to keep a special eye on the girls because we are seeing very high rates of depression,” she said. 

    Although teens may be at a higher risk
    for negative impacts on their health, Damour admits that "Everybody needs electronic curfews and I think we can sort of just say, these are universal rules.”   (Source:  “Powering Down - New study links phone use and mental health issues in teens,” Psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour, CBS This Morning, July 3, 2017)
    What Parents Can Do
    • There are quite a lot of new tools for monitoring teen activity, but almost all of them have workarounds or drawbacks.  Some families do not allow their children to have internet enabled phones, which are too much of a temptation, because there are too many workarounds that other youth will describe and detail.

    • Parents may limit how many minutes teens can put on their cell phones, how many text messages they can send and receive, and how much can be spent on ring tones and games.  
    • Parents may prevent teens from texting during school, talking after 10 p.m., calling or receiving calls from a particular person, block visits to particular web sites, and track the actual location of their children carrying cell phones. 
    Additional Resources

    • TeenSafe Phone Tracker - built by Parents for Parents.  Monitor your children's texts, calls, social media, phone location, and more.  https://cp.teensafe.com/

    • Some parents rely heavily on OpenDNS, a free wifi filtering service — it redirects all internet activity on your wifi signal to a different Domain Naming Service (DNS) that can be filtered based on your preferences. It works through your router. It filters everything from gaming, gambling, pornography, and lingerie sites to cheating, dating, video sharing, social media, etc.  It has robust options to customize to each family’s preferences. It is a baseline tool, and every family needs some sort of filtering support. It also disables the capabilities of browsers to support “private browsing,” if you select that option. You can see every website that is visited from any device that is using that signal. It is a free service.