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I Heard That Nighttime Screen Use Damages The Sleep And Mental Health Of Kids. This Is What I Did About It.

I Heard That Nighttime Screen Use Damages The Sleep And Mental Health Of Kids. This Is What I Did About It.

Dear Guitar Student Parent,

The Guardian newspaper recently reported that late night texting, calling and media consumption is associated with poor sleep (duh!) and also “depressed moods and declines in self-esteem and coping ability” for kids and teens. In fact, the mere presence of a screen in a bedroom is associated with poorer sleep and mental health, even when kids report not using it.

Yet over 70% of kids and 80% of teens have unrestricted access to their phones at night.

That isn’t surprising, because screens are ubiquitous. Kids don’t just use them for games and entertainment–they use them for connecting with friends, doing homework–even as alarm clocks. So, how can we help our kids use screens in a healthy way?

In this article, I’ll share with you my incredibly simple method of helping my 11, 14 and 17 year old kids keep screens out of their rooms at night. Even more importantly, I’ll share with you why I think it works!

Over the years, we’ve developed a rule in our home that all screens must be on the kitchen counter at night. If they are, then they will still be there in the morning available for use. If not, Dad keeps the phone the next day.
This is easy practice in choices and consequences.

I don’t believe in controlling kids for the sake of control. After all, I know that my kids will grow up to be in charge of themselves! But I believe helping them learn to take control of their own lives means giving them the chance to practice self-discipline, and the benefits that come with it.
This simple system means that EVERY NIGHT the kids get the opportunity to practice planning ahead. And EVERY MORNING they get the opportunity to benefit from planning ahead.

It’s simple. Just like night follows day, phones placed on the kitchen counter at night are still there the next day!
Although there is conflict in our house around some issues, there is virtually none about the “phone in kitchen” rule. And I think I know why.
You see, I believe better sleep at night isn’t just good for kids–it is good for me, too! I have utter conviction that going to sleep without a screen gives me better sleep, more night time book reading (a priority for me), and better next day results. And I notice that when I wake up without a screen nearby I connect more with my family, get dressed faster, and have more fun.
That’s why my phone and my laptop also go on the kitchen counter, every night.
In fact, I starting following this practice months before I asked the kids to do it, too.
Do you think the kids might respond a little better to a rule that applies to me, than to some seemingly random rule that is just for them?
Do you think it makes a difference when my laptop and phone are on the same counter where their gear is supposed to go?
Heck yeah!
Instead of saying “You’re not old enough to do what I do,” I am saying “You are old enough to do what I do.”
Although my kids mostly follow this rule, sometimes they miss. Here are a few of the objections I’ve received.
  • “Sorry, I fell asleep with it in the room.” (OUTCOME: Night follows day, phone disappears for the day.)
  • “But I’m going to my friend’s house after school, I NEED my phone to get in touch with you. I need it to be safe! Don’t you care about my safety?” (OUTCOME: Night follows day, phone disappears for the day.)
  • “This rule is stupid–no other parent does this!”/”But I need it for my homework.”/ “Etc.” (OUTCOME: Night follows day, phone disappears for the day.)
Of course, the rule has changed a bit over time. At first it was just phones on school nights…then we added all screens. Then we decided that even though the kids can stay up more or less as late as they like on Friday and Saturday–they still need to put their screens away at the end of their night. It is SO MUCH EASIER to make the habit the same on every day–especially for me!
Growing up home-schooled in Idaho, my family didn’t even have a TV. That was “long ago and far away.” But because of the fast change of technology, every single one of us comes from a place that was “long ago and far away” compared to the reality that our kids are growing up in. We are all navigating new terrain, every day.
But I believe some things don’t change. Working hard and learning self-control is still a virtue. And getting sleep still helps you have a great day!
I have many failings as a dad–sometimes I’m impatient, or I lose my temper–sometimes I’m oblivious to something important going on. But–just like you, I hang in there! It’s nice to have something that works well, so I’m really happy that we seem to have worked out a healthy, low drama, approach to screens in bedrooms that works for our whole family.
How about you? What do you do? I’d love to hear…
On To Greatness,
Dan Emery
Founder, NYC Guitar School
Dan Emery is dedicated to Coaching Personal Greatness, One Lesson At A Time. He is the founder of NYC's friendliest and fastest growing guitar schools, New York City Guitar School, Brooklyn Guitar School, Queens Guitar School and NYC Guitar School, East, and the author of the Amazon best-selling Guitar For Absolute Beginners and six other books on learning guitar and deliberate practice. He coaches new entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program and especially enjoys helping other Educational Entrepreneurs. He has a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, extensive performing experience as songwriter and guitarist for The Dan Emery Mystery Band, a wife, three kids, a cat and some juggling equipment.


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