I’m well aware of the issues with smartphones. They’re addictive. They can negatively affect our mental health. They make us unproductive, and comparing ourselves on social media can damage our self esteem.
I also know that all of these issues can be ten times worse for our teens. After all, their brains are still developing, and their mental health can be fragile at this age.
Still, I think raising teens is all about picking your battles. For me, managing my teen’s phone use is at the very bottom of my list of things I’m willing to participate in. And yes, that includes if he’s on his phone at night.
I knew parents had vastly different perspectives on phone use in general, with some parents being much more permissive than others. But I didn’t realize how many different points of view there were on phone usage, specifically at night, until a friend of mine posted about it on social media.
“How many parents allow their high schoolers to keep their phone in their room overnight?” she asked.
The responses kind of shocked me. Parents were pretty evenly divided between, “Never!” and “It’s totally fine.” Personally, I was in the “Wait, is this even a thing?” camp.
Phones in Bedrooms at Night? Why Not?
I’ll be totally honest: I hadn’t thought about this question in years. Yes, I definitely used to make my son put away his phone at bedtime. But that was during the years when bedtime was a long drawn-out process of book reading, snuggling, endless water refills, and crossing my fingers and toes that he would actually fall the heck to sleep.
His younger brother is still in that stage, and his iPad gets plugged in and placed on the coffee table every night before bed. No electronics in his room at bedtime—if that happened, he’d never, ever get to sleep.
But things are completely different for my ninth grader. First of all, there’s the practical part. This kid stays awake as late as I do, and the idea of participating in his bedtime ritual in any way besides a kiss goodnight (if he’ll even let me do that!) sounds, well, absurd. The idea of enforcing a rule that I know he would push back against with vigor is exhausting to even think about.
Not only that, but my son’s phone is basically his entire life. He chats with his friends on his phone, he keeps up with homework assignments, and all of his entertainment and leisure time happens via his phone. Obviously, there’s a time and place for all that, but I know that I personally like to unwind before bed by reading books or articles on my phone—and let’s be honest, watching cute, mindless videos. Why should I deprive my son of those things?
Maybe most importantly, there are some really healthy uses for phones, and the way my son uses his phone at night is a prime example of that. He has always had a bit of trouble unwinding at night, and his solution is to listen to a meditation on his phone every night to fall asleep. He’s particularly fond of ASMR soundscapes, but rotates between a few different apps and meditations that work well for him.
But even if there wasn’t this healthier reason for my son to use his phone, I still don’t think I would consider prohibiting him from using it. Thankfully, he has become able to self-regulate well when it comes to his phone use. Yes, like many of us, he’s on it probably more than he should be. But that doesn’t stop him from doing his homework, doing his chores, and being a pleasant enough human.
Importantly, having his phone in his room doesn’t stop him from sleeping.
I totally get how that could be a problem for some teens. Even just the blue light emanating from phones is enough to mess with circadian rhythms and make it hard to fall asleep. (Our family actually uses blue light filters to combat this!)
I know how important sleep is, especially for teens. If my son’s phone was interfering with his sleep, I think we’d have to take a hard look at our permissive attitude when it comes to nighttime phone usage. But even then, I can’t imagine a complete ban happening.
Instead, I think we’d consider imposing deadlines for when he should switch from using his phone for fun and socializing and when he needed to shut it down for sleep. Some people on my friend’s social media post mentioned apps that automatically shut that stuff down, so that teens can’t access it after a certain hour.
But I can also see myself taking more of a natural consequences kind of approach. If my son’s phone usage was interfering with his sleep, and he ended up being chronically sleep deprived, I have a feeling that he would put two and two together and set his own rules about when to shut down his phone for the night.
The truth is, at this age, that’s the kind of learning that I want him to move toward as much as possible. In just a few years, I will have absolutely no authority over aspects of his life like phone usage. I think learning how to self-regulate—and learning from his mistakes, as exhausting as they may be—is the most important lesson I can help him learn.