I recommend that every parent takes the time to listen to the Conversations with Richard Fidler podcast featuring David Gillespie. It is titled, How the iPhone Rewrote the Teenage Brain.
David is a social researcher who admits that he took a laissez-faire approach to his young children’s screen time and wasn’t too worried about the different gaming and social platforms they could access. At the insistence of his wife, he did the research. What he found concerned him enough to write a book. He hypothesises that platforms such as Fortnite and Instagram are altering the neural pathways of a generation and shares the latest science on gaming, social media and screens.
He realised that getting into arguments with, and the tantrums of, his children when he tried to take the phone or screen away wasn’t because of naughty behaviour, it was a sign of addictive behaviour. When trying to get his son off his PS4 and Fortnite during a battle became a virtual impossibility he questioned how much influence these sorts of games were having on the chemistry of the brain. It is a challenging listen that poses many interesting questions for parents and schools to consider. It certainly highlights the bad habits many of us have perhaps fallen into.
David does not hate computers (although he quite obviously is not a fan of smart phones and iPads) but he is concerned about the software platforms they provide and how adolescents use them. He says, “computers and screens are a great resource that have a place in our society, but that place is definitely not in an adolescent’s bedroom.” There should also never be excessive use.
I want to focus on two matters in this space.
When staff address the area of sleep with students, there is a predictable collective groan. When we ask them why, it comes down to most of them believing that not getting enough sleep is a part of their life and there is nothing they can do about it.
Ask your adolescent these two questions:
- Do you find it difficult to get up and get moving in the morning?
- Do you have a big weekend sleep in?
A “yes” to either of these questions could indicate sleep deprivation. Getting enough sleep is so important to the growing body and mind. It is one of the ‘Three Pillars’ of good adolescent health:
- Good sleep
- Regular exercise
- Good nutrition
We focus so much on diet and exercise, yet the sleep is even more important. This is good news. Getting more exercise is hard, improving your diet can be difficult, but sleep, it is as simple as getting into bed with good ‘sleep hygiene’. It is the easiest to fix, yet the one teenagers tend to neglect. What is good sleep hygiene? It means being set up for and allowing, a good night’s sleep.
This means getting screens out of bedrooms and turning off phones. It also means being off screens in the hour before bedtime.
The latest ABS report on teenage screen time had 96% using a screen in the hour before bed time and only 8% turning off their phone at night.
There are four ways screens sabotage your sleep:
- Screen time delays bed time. Social media, gaming and YouTube are fun. They are hard to close down and easy to access throughout the night. Having phones switched off and out of the room gives a clear ‘bedtime’.
- It’s exciting, fun and highly addictive. Screens and the platforms they provide produce dopamine and adrenaline surges. High cortisol (stress hormones) are also produced. These are all ‘awake’ chemicals. Active screen time is much worse than passive screen time. The more active (social media and gaming), the more ‘awake’ chemicals and the less chance of a restful sleep.
- The portability of devices means ‘less on desk’ and ‘more in bed’. It blurs the lines. Beds are for sleep, but engaging with screens in bed conditions your brain that beds are for ‘awake’. Phones should not be in beds. We must stop training our brain to be awake in bed. (Gaming and messaging are the worst).
- Blue screen light lowers melatonin (the sleep hormone). The smaller the device, the more blue light. Smaller screens also end up being held closer to the face, increasing the issue.
We can’t stress it enough – adolescents and teenagers must get their phones out of their bedrooms during sleep time. The constant waiting for the social media or message update means a constant supply of cortisol. Waiting for the ‘bing’ means the brain never relaxes. If the phone is off, the brain can sleep in peace without waiting for the next update.
The good news is that sleep also makes you smarter. Learning requires turning short term facts and information into long term memory. This happens during REM sleep. A well-rested brain consolidates classroom learning and study into long term memories. A tired brain is a case of ‘in one ear and out the other’. How great is the news that a good night’s sleep is good for your grades?
Mr Mark Ash / Principal