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Empowering Teens to Make Healthy Choices

Written by Harriet Fagan. Posted in Uncategorized

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Published on March 17, 2011 with No Comments

Professionals and interested parents and community members are invited to attend “Women & Girls at Risk,” a CE-accredited seminar sponsored by A Positive Approach to Teen Health (PATH, Inc.) on April 12 from 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. at Strongbow Inn in Valparaiso. For more information or to register, go to www.pathblazer.org or call 219-548-8783.

by Harriet Fagan

Do you recall the Gilda Radnor Saturday Night Live character who always lamented, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another?” Well, you can bet that today’s parents of teens share that lament. As if protecting their children from drugs, pornography, computer predators, bullies, poor nutrition, and a sex-obsessed media aren’t enough, parents now also need to understand and address the dangers of teens sleeping with their cell phones.

Yes, sadly, a parent can’t even let down his guard after his child heads to bed for the night because, more often than not, the teen is snuggling up with a cell phone. In fact, researchers at the Sleep Disorders Center at JFK Medical Center discovered that “on average, the kids in the study were texting or e-mailing 33.5 times per night to more than three different people (3.7).” Furthermore, these electronic messages would occur anywhere from 10 minutes to four hours after the child’s bedtime!

Why is this a problem? For one thing, research at both UC San Diego and Harvard indicates that “the use of social networks by adolescents influences sleep patterns, sleep deprivation and drug use.” The study also revealed that the less adolescents sleep, the more likely their friends are to sleep poorly and to use marijuana. The poor sleep behavior and marijuana use extended up to four degrees of separation in social network – to one’s friends’ friends’ friends’ friends.

Let’s look at the relationship between cell phones and sleep deprivation. Because adolescents need nine hours of sleep compared to an adult’s eight hours, bedtime text and phone conversations are depriving too many teens of the intense sleep their minds and bodies require to perform well. The resulting lack of sleep has been shown to cause difficulties in school, including disciplinary problems, sleepiness in class, lowered creativity, and poor concentration. It also exacerbates emotional problems and results in traffic accidents.

Why do teens jeopardize their health and welfare by curling up in bed with an electronic device nearby? The main reason is to “be there” for their friends by responding to their late night calls and text messages. But, they are likely unaware of the less obvious rewards the practice may be providing them.

According to Suzanne Phillips, PsyD, “Teens who use their cell phones to text are 42 percent more likely to sleep with their phones than teens who own phones but do not text. Texting is instantly gratifying and highly anxiety producing. Neuro-imaging has shown that back-and-forth texting floods the pleasure centers of the brain, the same area that light up when using heroin. The emotional disruption of a real or perceived negative response, however, necessitates more texting to repair the mood, to fix the feelings of rejection, blame and disconnection. The addictive potential is obvious.”

In other words, it’s difficult for the mind to disconnect.

Indeed, cell phones make dangerous bedfellows for teens and create another reason for their parents to stew. The good news is that this issue can be addressed relatively easily.

No, you can’t simply expect your child to exchange his cell for his old blankie, teddy bear, or other nighttime comfort item. But you can make him aware of the considerable dangers of connecting with friends electronically throughout the night and follow up by setting a shut off time. Allow him to “make you the bad guy” when his friends react to his unavailability.

Now get some sleep. You’ll want to be well rested in order to deal with whatever struggle your teen will face tomorrow because you know, “If it’s not one thing, it’s another.”

Sweet dreams.

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About Harriet Fagan

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Harriet Fagan is a mother, grandmother, freelance writer and former educator; she creates this column under the auspices of A Positive Approach to Teen Health (PATH, Inc.).

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