Born to be wired: cell phones creating sleep deprived teens

Published: Dec. 30, 2011 at 12:05 AM CST|Updated: Dec. 30, 2011 at 3:49 AM CST
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Texting has changed the way we communicate, and for kids growing up today, it's changed the way they're developing.  There is no doubt kids these days are plugged in.

"I hate having my phone on silent in school," confesses EJ Goings, a senior in high school. "So I put it on vibrate, and when I get Twitter updates or anything, I just have to check it. If I get written up, I'll take the write-up, but I have to have my phone."

Parade Magazine recently wrote this generation was "Born to be Wired". A group of teens sat down to explain why they are always connected.

"There's something always going on. I never want to not know about it," Madison Doss, also a senior, explained.

Born to be Wired

Sleep deprived teens are more likely to start dangerous or risky behaviors, according to HealthDay News.

The stories below explain the possibly dangerous side effects of your teen not sleeping enough.

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Senior Lindsey Arneberg weighs in, "I've been texting five people at the same time before and then talking to someone.  You can be in multiple places at once."

"Basically, I have to have my phone on me at all times," Goings states. His classmates, Grace Long and Jack Springs agree, adding they are constantly checking their phones.

The teens don't have to sneak their phones into school, lead counselor Cookie Goings says, they're allowed to have them.

"It's a respect for them as being young people and understanding the world and the age in which they live," she says.

School policy, however, states the phones are not to be used during classroom time. The selected group of teens we talked to admit they can't unplug, even when they're supposed to.

"You feel like you're missing out on something. Something's going on, someone's trying to get in touch with you," Springs says.

"Especially now, [because] you can get on websites with it," Long adds. "Facebook, Twitter, whatever.  Everybody's always like 'Oh, did you see what's on Twitter?' Then you have to go check!"

The technology driven generation has grown up more connected; now, it could be changing the way they're developing.  Family medicine doctor Ray Holt says teens face a lot of issues from being too plugged in.

"They can be angry when they wake up. They can have issues of anxiety disorder or depression. These teens have increased risk of drug abuse.  They have trouble with interpersonal relationships. They can be over-emotional," Dr. Holt says.

Our group of seniors agrees, sometimes sleep gets overlooked.  When their phones ring at night, most of them say they wake up to answer.

"You gotta pick it up, you gotta pick it up," Goings says, adding, "It could be something important."

"I always wake up and then the next morning I'll see that I have texted somebody [in the middle of the night] and it's all sort of misspelled," Doss says with a meek smile.

"It might have that ding at like, four in the morning or something, you wake up for five minutes, look, text back, then go back to sleep," Springs says.

Waking up several times a night to respond to texts, tweets or Facebook messages is just a normal part of life for teens these days, but it's that interrupted sleep, Dr. Holt says, that's damaging their brains.

"Those message alerts you hear dinging throughout the night, you may be asleep during those, but it activates your mind just enough to fragment that sleep and cause some issues during the day," Dr. Holt says.

"As a parent, a 24/7 connection is not necessary," Cookie Goings adds. "I think the hours that they are awake is enough."

She's EJ's mom and says a parent's role includes setting rules.

"In all situations, what kids really want and they need is for parents to be parents and to establish boundaries," Cookie Goings says.

"The parents need to tell the kids to log off that computer, turn off that cell phone," Dr. Holt warns. "They need to power those devices down and they should do that at least an hour before bed."

All of our teens admit, mom and dad do tell them to unplug before bed, but it rarely happens.

"Sometimes my mom tells me 'You better not use your phone when you go to sleep!' and I just use my phone every night," Jacinto-Aguilar Romeo says.

"I'm supposed to turn mine off, but I'm always usually texting people or like on Tumblr or Twitter," Doss says.

Sleep Test

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"Someone says 'I can't sleep' so they text you, then you can't sleep so you text someone else then the whole grade's up," Springs says.

Dr. Holt says to try these methods to help hyper-connected teens unplug:

  • Together, determine a set time that they can check the phone
  • Take the phone away and only let them have it at the set time
  • Try checking the phone in 2 hour increments (maybe after some homework is done or after dinner)
  • Power down phone and computer at least 1 hour before bed

The entire group admits that even though they may disobey their parents when it comes to unplugging, there are consequences if their grades start to slip.

"As soon as my grades are below As, everything's gone. Car, truck, iPod, phone," Springs says.

"When I first got it, I couldn't have it upstairs with me past 9:00," Long says.

"Just as long as it doesn't interfere with my work in school," Daquarius Wilson, also a senior, says of using a cell phone.

The teens don't see a problem, rather just a part of growing up.

"Technology is just getting better and better and better, so we're just getting more into it as we grow up," Springs relates.

"Technology also helps to keep you on top of things.  Keeps you focused," Wilson adds.

"I think that struggle is part of growing up, like you have to learn to balance what's important and what's not," Arneberg says.

Dr. Holt not only says it's important to disconnect at least an hour before lights out, but there are also warnings sign parents can be on the look-out for when it comes to teens who just can't hit that power button.

Dr. Holt says to watch for these symptoms in sleep deprived teens:

  • Mornings where it is difficult to get your teen out of bed in the morning
  • Is your child falling asleep in school or having trouble concentrating (ask their teacher)
  • Are your child's grades slipping?
  • Does your child seem to have trouble remembering things throughout the day?

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