1 Troubling Way Texting Is Bad for Your Teen

iphoneFor the vast majority of teens, texting is like breathing: They do it constantly, without thinking about it, and if they stop they just might cease to exist. So a recent study linking texting at night to sleep-related problems and poor academic performance is definitely bad news for most parents!


Published in the Journal of Child Neurology, the research found that teens who turned off their devices (or who messaged for less than 30 minutes) after turning out their lights "performed significantly better in school" than kids who continued to text or instant message for over half an hour after going to bed. The kids who texted longer also -- as one might expect -- "slept fewer hours and were sleepier during the day" than kids who quit messaging sooner. (Interestingly, texting before bed was not shown to have an effect on academic performance.)

While most of this probably sounds like common sense (oh, so kids who stay up all night texting are more tired the next day and have trouble focusing on their work? You don't say!), there might be more to these findings than it seems.  

According to Xue Ming, study author and professor of neuroscience and neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, it has to do with the "blue light" emitted from smartphones and tablets. This "short wavelength light" can increase daytime sleepiness symptoms because it delays melatonin release, which makes it harder to fall asleep (even if your eyes are closed). 

"When we turn the lights off, it should be to make a gradual transition from wakefulness to sleep," says Ming.

"If a person keeps getting text messages with alerts and light emission, that also can disrupt his circadian rhythm. Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the period during sleep most important to learning, memory consolidation, and social adjustment in adolescents. When falling asleep is delayed but rising time is not, REM sleep will be cut short, which can affect learning and memory."

Well, that's not good. As the parent of a 14-year-old, I know all too well how important a decent night's sleep is to the health and well-being of teenagers, not to mention to the rest of the family! (Grumpy, sleep-deprived teen = RUN FOR THE HILLS!) But, also as the parent of a 14-year-old, I know how incredibly difficult breaking kids of a nighttime texting habit can be. (Remember the breathing/texting comparison?) And it's not like there's much parents can do to encourage an earlier bedtime for teens, either -- not with the amount of homework these kids get. Most of which, by the way, requires the Internet (as in, still more phone and/or tablet usage at night). 

More from The Stir: 7 Best Things About Your Kid's Texting Addiction

So what's the answer? I'm not sure, really -- the fact is that our increasingly tech-dependent ways aren't particularly healthy, but we can only do so much to shield our kids from the fallout when they're forced to comply with the trends in order to function as members of society. Ming argues that these findings are further proof that delayed high school start times would benefit teens, and I'm definitely on board with that one! 

In the meantime, I guess all we can do is tell our kids to stop texting before bed. (At least we can say we tried.)


Image via wicker_man/Flickr 

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