Cyber communications have impacted the lifestyle of youth in many ways, some positive and others not so much. A harmful trend over the past decade is that tweens and teens are losing bedtime because the cyber communications are addictive; they are up into the wee hours of the morning engaged in texting, social media, video games and homework. This is a problem that is not limited to youth, as indicated in a New Yorker column, “Let’s get productive” by Bruce Leddy who sites a TED Talk by Dr. Herbert Laconte claiming that sleep deprivation is the big drain on productivity.
Columnist Julia Woodbrook of the Rodale News asks this question about productivity for children headed back to school.
For many the idea of a bedtime has been muted if not eliminated from their social existence; it is an arcane notion in a cyber-powered world without time and space barriers. Texting has introduced an expectation to be available for immediate response 24 hours a day. And the impact on mental health, including getting proper rest is a problem psychologists and health care experts have been concerned about for quite some time. So the question every modern parent needs to ask is: “Does the technology serve me and my family, or have we become slaves to the devices?”
See related eBook resource: Cyber Rites of Passage: Setting age-appropriate boundaries for children using ‘smart’ devices
This ancient cyber mom’s regret
The one thing I wished I had done differently with mobile phones in my home was to designate a time in the evening when the mobile device is powered down and turned in at a central location so that there can be an actual bedtime. When the mobile phone first arrived in the hands of our digital native circa 2004 as he entered middle school, it was a simple “pay as you go” Nextel phone purchased with his paper route money. My husband and I had decided that since our son had earned the money, it was his prerogative to purchase the device.
Quickly I learned that this decision was more complex than who earned the money; it was a rite of passage. As the mobile connectivity instantly became a standard issue for his peers, much like a pair of shoes, it became clear that the children were not properly socialized for the power crisis of cyber connectivity in the palm of the hand. By that I mean, the children were not socialized for proper etiquette and civility on and off line. Screen communications made it easy to abandon the physical realm, and become lost in a cyber-powered social realm active 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Cyber connectivity inspired violation of boundaries for civility (bullying) and healthy lifestyles (lack of sleep and anxiety) at early ages as the device and cyber-cowered communities became the single point of reference for life. And one of the first boundaries to be blurred was bedtime as the drama of youth activities played well into the wee hours of the morning via texting.
Boundaries that empower children: Mindful use of tools
According to Westbrook exhausted children lacking rest and dragging their heels a few weeks after the start of the school year is less attributed to busy schedules, and more a result of bad bedroom habits involving technology. She offers some tips for parents to help children maintain a more balanced use of the devices including, setting the example, use the landline, keep the phone out of the bedroom and shutting down the device one hour before bedtime.
- The most important thing parents can do is set the example and inspire your child to be thinking about setting boundaries that keep him free from undue influence, especially around the use of the device that that can rob you of sleep if you do not choose to shut it down.
Some of the excuses for keeping the device in the bedroom include “the device is my alarm”, “what if my friends need to ask me something? and “I use it for reading material for school”. Since any internet-enabled device, such as the iPad, Kindle or the notebook, also enable the use of texting and social media it is important to help your child declare her room a rest area free from social drama or other addictive apps including video games. Kids can understand the fundamental challenge of human nature: if we are not mindful, we can unwittingly become slaves to the devices and apps. So the question we ask our children is, “Who is in charge? You or the device?”
- The anxiety a child feels letting go of the technology is your signal as the parent to help your child build resiliency skills.
Every individual has the ability to self-sooth; it is an essential life skill that device-anxiety can teach. As with anything else in life, every innovation can be used for good or not good and striking a balance and striving for moderation in all things, especially use of technology is empowerment. It is taking command over your own intellect and free will to seek the good in all circumstances, which is always in the center between the extremes.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.