Some 9-Year-Olds Check Their Phones Up to 10 Times a Night — When We Think They’re Sleeping

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

There’s been a fair amount of swirl in the media recently about how bad our collective smartphone addiction has become, and how negatively it impacts our kids. Well, I’m sorry to say there’s some more fuel to add to that fire: A UK study has found that children as young as 9 check their smartphones repeatedly throughout the night when, presumably, they should be sleeping.


If the mental picture of 9-year-olds updating their Instagram feeds at midnight doesn’t strike quite enough fear in your heart, here are some added highlights from the study that just might:

  • 10% of the children surveyed said they check their phones at least 10 times a night.
  • Nearly 50% of children ages 11-18 admit to using social media such as YouTube and Snapchat when they should be sleeping.
  • Many children reported waking up to over 100 notifications from conversations that happened overnight. (100!)
  • 25% reported feeling tired during the day because of how often they checked their phones at night.

But here’s the scariest part: Many of the parents of the children surveyed in the study — which was done by the Digital Awareness UK (DAUK), and Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), according to the Huffington Post — had no clue their kids were even on their phones in the middle of the night.

I can’t throw any shade on those parents either, because I completely get how it could happen. My oldest two children are 6 and 8 and they don’t have their own phones yet, but my husband and I do let them play on our old iPhones, which pretty much function like iPod Touches.

We have strict family rules about screen time and honestly, I thought we had the whole thing under pretty tight control — until this morning, when my husband caught both of them playing games on the old phones at 6:00 AM.

Yes, that really happened today.

Consequences were swiftly meted out, and we had a lengthy discussion over breakfast reiterating our family screen time rules — including why those rules exist in the first place. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling like I have a giant “PARENTING FAIL” sign flashing over my head today.


And let’s remember my kids are 6 and 8. They don’t have Snapchat yet. (Or whatever the next popular, terrifying social media app will be when they’re older.) I can only imagine how much harder this gets once they have the pull of friends messaging them at 1:00 AM.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think smartphones are terrible (quite the opposite, in fact), but the UK study combined with our Early Morning Smartphone Incident reminds me that I need to be mindful of how I’m using my phone too, and what behavior I’m modeling for my children.

For about a year now, my husband and I have had an informal policy of putting down our phones for an hour every night and focusing on family time. But if I’m being honest, we’ve gotten pretty lax about that. The draw of work emails and texts from friends and the roiling political dialog on Facebook has gotten the better of us recently. And that’s not OK. When my husband told me about the kids sneaking screen time in this morning, our own nonstop smartphone use was the first thing I thought of.

So as of this evening, we’ve recommitted to our nightly digital detox. We plan to keep up an ongoing dialog with our kids about smartphones, about how and when to use them thoughtfully. And assuming all of this goes well, when our kids are 14 and 16 they’ll be asleep at 1:00 AM, and not texting their friends.

Until then, I’ll be crossing my fingers and toes.

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