Kids don’t know when to stop. That’s why they need us parents to guide them. They want to push the boundaries but also need the boundaries to be there to protect them, no matter how old they are. Kids who are presented with clear boundaries as to what they are allowed and not allowed to do will of course resist (they’re expecting us to push back) but with our support will eventually respect these limits.
It’s explained to them from a very early age that they should look both ways when crossing the road, put their coat on when it’s raining and shouldn’t go out of the front door without asking their parents for permission. Parents feel comfortable with these boundaries (they themselves would have grown up with them) but when it comes to internet usage, many parents don’t understand where and how to draw them.
As a result, we’re seeing children of all ages becoming addicted to and obsessed with the internet, with dangerous consequences, one of the main ones being sleep deprivation.
Ask most new parents and you will hear that dealing with their own sleep deprivation is often what hits them the hardest, and is often likened to a type of torture, certainly not something they would wish on their children. Long-term sleep deprivation can cause more than just tiredness and slightly irritable children in the morning. It can result in diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Children who don’t get enough sleep at night are also more likely to be withdrawn and anxious. Furthermore, according to a recent study from Johns Hopkins University , children who slept the least had a 92 per cent higher risk of being overweight compared to children with longer sleep duration.
The experts at the Sleep Foundation say that  teenagers should have between eight to ten hours’ sleep a night to function best and prepare them for a busy day studying at school. But these numbers are rarely hit. One study suggests that only 15 per cent of teenagers sleep in excess of eight and a half hours on school nights . Teenagers staying up late and being cranky in the morning isn’t anything new, but what they’re doing to keep them awake in the early hours – spending hours on the internet – is fast becoming an obsession for many young people. So much so, that one in five pupils have admitted that they missed mealtimes or sleep to keep using their phone or other device; hardly a healthy habit for students to get into .
Many fear missing out on vital chat on social media sites and playing video games online, meaning they may be pushed out of friendship groups in the playground the following morning. Young people are clearly feeling the pressures of social media and online gaming and are addicted to being connected to all things digital 24/7. But while the internet opens up a whole new world of connectivity with friends, it can also seriously harm children by depriving them of the sleep they need to develop both physically and mentally.
The evidence speaks for itself. A study last year linked poor exam results to students playing video games and blamed social media use for exposing kids to dangers and disrupting their sleep patterns . Furthermore, the blue light screens (so often blamed for keeping us awake at night after we’ve turned off our mobile devices) have also been linked to depression as well as insomnia .
Surely we need to question how much is too much for our children and start setting restrictions now before this addiction develops into more of a serious mental and physical health issue for teenagers. Parents need to take control and assess their child’s time on the internet to help them re-establish a sensible and stable sleeping pattern. My guess is if they calculated how many hours their child spends online they’d probably be shocked. If this is having a negative effect on their child’s sleep then parents need to agree with their child on a suitable period of ‘internet time’ and enforce it. Technology can help with setting and imposing this limit by disconnecting a child from the internet at the agreed time, whether they’re on the family’s Wi-Fi or using their inevitable mobile data plan.
There are several needs common to all human beings; water, food, shelter, warmth and sleep. If we deprive our bodies of any of these basic needs we will struggle to cope with everyday life. Sleep deprivation is a real issue and while there are many other factors at play that will prevent children getting a good night’s sleep (i.e. eating or drinking too much late at night), device usage has rapidly become the main distractor. It is a problem that has built up as online applications become ever more involving, yet it isn’t going to go away by itself. Now it’s time to rub the sleep out of our own eyes and wake up to the problem. As parents, we need to start controlling our kids’ internet usage before bedtime, to ensure a good night’s sleep for all of us and help to reconnect families throughout the land.