QUESTION: My 14-year-old son is a poor sleeper, which has implications for him getting up in the mornings. He has got into bad habits and has a TV in his room. He says watching TV in his room helps him relax before sleep, though I am not sure. He is also on his tablet all the time and plays games on this before bed.
He is meant to turn them off by 9:30pm, although he is always pushing it and it often leads to a row between us. When I threatened to remove all the technology from his room, he freaked out. What should I do?
Screens and technology have invaded family life and they are certainly a mixed blessing. Despite your son’s protests, watching TV or using technology before bed is not associated with relaxing sleep but, in fact, the reverse.
The general recommendation is to have all screens turned off a good hour or two before sleep. It is often best not to have them in the bedroom at all, as the temptation is to use them right up until bedtime; indeed, many teens switch them back on in the middle of the night when their parents are asleep.
As a result, many families try to establish good habits about technology by establishing rules such as phones and tablets are put away after 8pm, or no technology during dinner time, in order to encourage chatting.
Introducing these rules with teenagers can be difficult and, of course, there can be resistance. Generally, the best way to do it is gradually: plan to have a series of conversations with your son about establishing the best routine for using technology in your home.
Don’t expect to come up with a decision immediately, but instead agree a time for sorting something out, for example, within two weeks.
When you talk, make sure to listen to his point of view as well as sharing your concerns. It is useful to focus on the ultimate goal, saying, “I’m only doing this to help you get a good night’s sleep so you are relaxed in the morning.”
Encourage him to think about things between chats: “Let’s look up the research on screens/TV in the home/the amount of sleep people need,” and so on.
Also, make sure to give him some responsibility and choices: “I’d prefer to remove technology altogether, but if you show that you have it all turned off by 8:30pm without me asking, then we will consider you keeping it.”
You also have the backup of using consequences to enforce rules: “If you don’t get up on time in the morning, then you will lose some of your screen time in the evening.”
For more practical tips see the Safefood “It’s Bedtime” campaign, safefood.eu
Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, April 2015. John writes in The Irish Times Health+Family every Tuesday.