I've always been pretty strict when it comes to screens in the bedroom at night. It's one of those things that seems to me like a slippery slope ¨C one I had no desire of losing control of when it comes to my children and their screen time.?
As a journalist who regularly writes about parenting, I'm well aware of the studies and the stories warning of how damaging to children's sleep taking phones or tablets to bed can be.
But all of those studies and stories work on statistics and what's best for most. They don't take specific circumstances into account. Around the time my son turned 14, I knew they weren't relevant to him, and that it might be worth the risk to try something different.
There were a few factors at play that led me to questioning the hard no I'd always given when it came to my son taking his phone to bed. First, he was suffering from some acute anxiety at the time, and although I knew that being online can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, I also knew my son's phone was his lifeline to contacting his friends ¨C of reaching out and talking through problems when he needed to, at any hour of the night or day. He was on websites with friends all over the world, so someone was always up, always available to lend an ear.
I had seen that not having that access could lead to his anxiety escalating to worrying levels that made me worry that he might do something to hurt himself.?
As a single parent of three, I tried to be as available as possible to my son, but I knew I couldn't be all things, all the time. I had two younger children who needed me just as much as my teenage son did. And there were some things that he just felt more comfortable talking about with his friends. That's part of growing up, and I could see my son was particularly vulnerable to the anxiety of feeling alone.
Second, and not unrelated to the first reason, my son was a chronic insomniac. We'd discussed with his psychologist the idea of listening to meditation apps to help him fall asleep. He seemed willing to try, which was enough for me, and I didn't want to stand in the way of anything that might help. It turned out those apps weren't for him, but ASMR videos on YouTube were. Having those videos on helped him to relax and unwind in a way that nothing else could.
The third factor that led to my decision was that my son started staying up later than me. I didn't want to stay up late, policing his every move into the night. I needed to take care of myself so I could be an effective parent the next day.?
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I knew that allowing my son to have his phone at night might have the opposite of the desired effect, of course, giving him a world of activities that could keep him up. But at some point I knew I'd have to relinquish that control, and ask him to make choices that were going to be good for him.
Did he always make those good choices? I'm certain the answer is no. But he did learn what worked for him, and he felt empowered by the fact that I trusted him to make his own decisions.
Now, three years later, my son practically lives in his room, like many 17-year-olds. He often stays up studying or doing assignments into the night, but I'm not na?ve enough to think he doesn't also chat with friends and watch movies well after I've gone to sleep. What I do know is that he knows when to switch off, and when he needs to take a break.??
Giving my son the autonomy to make his own decisions about his screen time went against everything I thought I knew about responsible parenting at the time, but my son required a different approach, and that approach worked well for him.?
My younger children, aged 11 and nine, aren't allowed to take their devices to bed, and I hope I never have to think about changing that rule. But I know I'll always do my best to treat them as individuals, and to trust my parenting gut, because no study can know our children better than we do.
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