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Ask the Expert: Should I Take Away My Teen’s Cell Phone at Night?

Dear Your Teen:

My teenager takes her phone in her room at night. I’m worried it’s hurting her sleep, but how can I transition it out and take away my teen’s cell phone at night? Her response is always, “Why don’t you trust me?” Is there a peaceful way to remove devices?

Expert Amy Speidel Answers: Should You Take Your Teen’s Phone at Night?

The research is clear: when teenagers have screens in their bedrooms, it interferes with their sleep. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that children ages 6 to 18 had an 88 percent higher risk of not sleeping enough when devices were in the bedroom and a 53 percent higher risk of getting a bad night’s sleep—and that’s when devices were in the bedroom just three nights a week.

How much sleep do teenagers need? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that from sixth grade to twelfth grade, pre-teens and teens should get between 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, the research also shows that most teenagers are sleep deprived, thanks to a variety of reasons including devices.

The reason that electronic devices interfere with sleep is because the light emitted by those devices is like a wake up call to the human brain. Specifically, the light prevents a hormone called melatonin from building up in the brain. It’s this nightly production of melatonin that enables us to fall asleep.

The bottom line: When parents take away teens’ cell phones at night, they’re helping to ensure this natural sleep process can occur, so their teenager can get a decent’s night rest.

In the case of your daughter, the “trust” line is a trap. Don’t go there. This is about providing a safe environment for your family. The only things allowed in a bedroom are things that don’t have the potential to obstruct sleep. A phone has that ability, as does a computer, TV, pretty much anything with a screen. Electronics and sleep do not go together.

Your job is to ensure she is protected at night by safeguarding her sleeping space. It is just your job. Be neutral—no extra explaining.

She doesn’t have to like it. It is just what it is.

Is there a peaceful way to remove devices? No. You’re cutting off their drug supply, so it feels as if they’ll die of boredom, or isolation, or exclusion—die a hundred deaths perhaps. This is a “rip the bandaid off” process.

Once you set a structure for when and how devices can be used, STICK TO IT!  It’s so tempting to make concessions and compromises. Be clear. It is the vague “maybe” that keeps the addiction flame alive.

Your teenager’s brain will regulate to the plan, as long as the plan is reasonable and respectful—oh, and you abide by it too. Be the example of self control and don’t take your device to bed either.

Amy Speidel is a Certified Parent Coach at Senders Parenting Center and an instructor in the Conscious Discipline Philosophy for parents and teachers.

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