With news that children could face a night-time social media curfew, under plans being considered by the information commissioner, we asked parents whether they already impose a similar curfew by taking their kids’ phones away at night.
Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who advises the government on internet safety, plans to ask mums and dads what measures they would want included in a legally-enforced code for social media companies. Options include issuing fines if companies send notifications during school hours or when children should be asleep.
But many parents are already preventing alerts from disturbing their kids at night, by banning phones from the bedroom after a set time.
“I’ve always taken the boys’ phones, tablets and all forms of technology off them at night,” says mum Tracey-Jane Hughes, 47, from Chorley. She has two sons Ben, 16, and Jack, 14. “They put them downstairs at least 30 minutes before their lights out time.”
Hughes says she removes the temptation of communicating at night, to help her sons’ brains switch off. “They have sneaked things into their rooms and suffered from lack of sleep,” she says. “We’ve shown them research about good sleep, and whilst they don’t always agree, they’ve stopped fighting us over it. They still grumble, but I think they both know that it’s good for them.”
Hughes believes parents should act as role models by not having their phones with them at night either, as she thinks this makes it easier to enforce a curfew.
On the opposite side of the debate, Michelle Shulman, 30, from Leighton Buzzard, doesn’t impose a curfew on her 15-year-old daughter Kelsie’s phone use, as she believes that Kelsie is old enough to learn about taking responsibility for when to get off her phone and go to sleep.
“I believe she has to be accountable for her own actions,” says Shulman. “As long as her homework is done then I am happy and she uses her phone to access the internet to do this. We still spend time together when she’s not on her phone and I believe that’s because I don’t restrict her.”
However, Shulman adds that Kelsie hasn’t quite got the balance right when it comes to screen time yet. “I do feel like she’s on her phone too much, but that said I will also acknowledge I am also on my phone too much,” she says. “75% of the time it is work related, but I do often find myself on social media getting stuck in a ’scroll hole’ - that, or a completely pointless game.”
The majority of parents we spoke to do ban phones at night, but many found that it is hard to do so without a fight. Deborah Smith, 59, from the West Midlands, says she is met with resistance when she takes her 16-year-old son’s phone away. “He never wants to hand it over,” she says. “We’ve agreed he can keep it later on non-school nights, but still he won’t be happy to hand it over and invariably I go and take it out of his hands while he’s sleeping on non-school nights.”
Other parents we spoke to on Twitter agreed:
Cathy Ranson, editor of ChannelMum.com, believes banning phones at night removes temptation and ensures a better night’s sleep, which means kids will make better choices the next day. “It may not make you popular, but being a good parent is about doing the right thing, even when it’s tough,” she says. “Managing phone use is always a good call.”
If you are looking to impose a social media/phone curfew, Ranson suggested the following:
:: Lead by example whatever you do. To change things you need to follow the rules as well.
:: Buy alarm clocks, so the old ‘but my phone is my alarm’ excuse doesn’t cut it.
:: Create a family charging station downstairs and remove all the plugs, leads and chargers from upstairs.
:: Get a gadget basket for bedtimes and put the youngest child in the house in charge. When people go to bed they pop all phones, games consoles and handsets in the basket and are responsible for charging everything.
:: Make sure there are consequences for rule breakers, adults included.
:: Decide as a family what the rules and consequences should be to ensure everyone is on board.