Kids today are getting less sleep and one of the culprits is their smartphone.
Getting kids on a healthy sleep pattern is already a challenge for many parents. With smartphones, it can be an all-out war. So far, the kids and their phones are winning.
So, what’s to stop youth from overusing their smartphones as adults do, especially at lights out? Our own attitudes about these devices may be the problem. About nine in 10 adults say it’s OK for kids 12 and older to take a phone to bed, per a recent Ipsos survey. Already, most kids have their own smartphones and tablets, according to the 2018 Spring and Fall waves of a syndicated Ipsos LMX Family study.
“Middle school is when you want to be able to get in touch with your kids,” says Janet Oak, senior vice president and deputy head of media development for Ipsos U.S. “It’s more of a parent leash than it is a kid requirement.”
Yet phones today serve so many roles, especially for young people. While they start as a tether for parents, they also can be an emergency tool, an educational and entertainment platform, a social connector, a health monitor and a white noise device. That makes it doubly difficult for kids to shut down.
Media time eats into sleep time
By the time kids reach age 10 to 12 they are getting a full hour less sleep than pre-tweens because they are spending that extra hour on media time, according to a 2018 Ipsos LMX Family eDiary. Their time using media ranges from 5.6 hours for the youngest group to 6 hours for the oldest.
“All kids are multitasking equally and teens are multitasking more, and the hours come from sleep,” Oak contends. “There’s a correlation between sleep quality and the ability to concentrate and focus on school. Plus, the stress and anxiety this generation feels when the last thing they see before bed and first thing in the morning contributes to that.”
Pre-teens should sleep between 9 and 12 hours per 24 hours for optimal health, according to American Academy of Sleep Medicine guidelines endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Another study on children published in Sleep, shows that kids ages 3 to 18 aren’t meeting the minimum recommended hours of shuteye at any age.
Parents cheered last summer when Apple rolled out Screen Time. The app measures device usage, sets time limits and has a downtime feature to control availability of apps at bedtime. However, some children have figured out work-arounds, which means brands should continue to make improvements. Meanwhile, the onus remains on parents to personally monitor their kids.
What brands can do
This adds up more opportunities for device marketers to help parents set healthy use habits and controls. Brands should continue to create tools for parents like communication programs and rewards for using downtime features. They also could build apps to inform parents when kids are online if the kids outsmart them.
Another option is to switch from a smartphone to a device like the Verizon Gizmo smartwatch. Designed for children, it includes automated alerts and a GPS tracker. It also has on-set notifications from 10 trusted contacts for voice calls and messaging. The $179.99 price tag does not include a data plan.
Brands also could partner with support organizations. One is called WeStartNow.org that aims to help parents help their kids manage tech in a healthy way, including setting phone bedtimes. This is where behavioral science also can help.
For example, “Bedtime already is a habit,” says Namika Sagara, president of the Behavioral Science Center at Ipsos North America. “Adding a new habit to that—like turning over a smartphone to parents—is easier than starting a habit from scratch. The trick is to be consistent and include a reward for maintaining the desired behavior.”