Is Zombie Scrolling Syndrome Zapping Your Child’s Health?

teens and sleep deprivation

Congratulations, parent. Your kids survived the first few weeks of the new school year. Or did they? You may want to take a closer look. Some grumbling and transition fatigue is acceptable the first week or two of school. But those yawns and heavy eyes going into the third or fourth week? Well, those may be signs of a bigger issue.

Kids need eight hours of sleep to show up emotionally, mentally, and physically ready to rock the school day (even more than eight depending on which expert has the mic.) Mobile phone use among teens spikes in the summer and that habit can be tough to break when the school year launches. If your child has a constant yawn, exceptional moodiness, and unusual stress (or even apathy) toward his or her school load, it’s possible he or she may have Zombie Scrolling Syndrome (ZSS). Yes, we coined that term for chronic late-night phone scrollers, but it’s more than legit.

What in the world could your kids be doing every night, all night? Sometimes they are texting or Snapchatting friends but often it’s just mindless scrolling out of habit with no real destination or benefit — hence the zombie reference. According to my go-to gang of fun loving tweens and teens, they proudly spend untold hours looking at YouTube and Vine videos, creeping on other people’s feeds, looking for outfit ideas on Instagram, watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, and just zombie scrolling habitually without any concern for time. Do they get tired? “Sure, but the feeling passes,” they laugh.

Not a good strategy for life, right?teens and sleep deprivation

What both teens (and adults!) can so easily forget is the cost of late night phone scrolling and how critical sleep is to our physical, mental, and emotional balance. Why do we forget so easily? In all seriousness — it’s because we are so tired!

A lack of sleep consistently can have serious consequences. According to WebMD and other medical sources, a consistent lack of sleep can have physical as well as emotional consequences such as:

  • A poor complexion (yes, some of that acne might be self-inflicted!)
  • Weight gain
  • Tension and strife in family and peer relationships
  • Increased stress and insecurity in social situations
  • Permanent sleep cycle and brain/melatonin issues caused by bright screens
  • Trouble concentrating, poor grades
  • Mood swings, irritability, depression
  • Caffeine addiction (coffee, energy drinks) spurred by fatigue
  • Constant exhaustion, poor performance in sports
  • Trouble making sound decisions
  • Compromised immune systems, getting sick more easily
  • Attitudes and symptoms that can mimic ADHD

According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sleep-deprived teens are more likely to make poor decisions such as drinking and driving, getting into a car with someone who has been drinking, and forgetting to buckle up. Researchers suggest that a teens’ sleep deficit could also be linked to a “likelihood to disregard the negative consequences” of taking chances. So overall: Kids need their sleep — for their wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of everyone around them.

3 tips to help stop the madness:

teens and sleep deprivation1. Ground Rules/Consequences. Your kids won’t jump for joy when you bring up curbing their scrolling habits. That’s okay, stick to your guns, parent. Put a phone contract in place, and some firm consequences. This might include a curfew, several hours of disconnect during homework time, and any other “down time” you deem appropriate to curb the need to scroll and text. We love these technology agreements from FOSI (the Family Online Safety Institute) because they do just that. They are short, focused, and put clear technology expectations in place. They are great because they put the responsibility for use (and family dialogue) on both the child and the parent.

2. Use Your Wi-Fi Controls: Did you know that most Internet providers and wireless router manufacturers have parental controls over the home Wi-Fi network? That’s right. They provide an excellent option for smartphone parameters. Even basic software features should allow you to block specific websites (such as teen favorites Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter) at specific times of the day. Google your provider and figure out how to shut off the Wi-Fi when the lights go out. Because let’s face it, if you take a teens’ phone, and they want to connect with friends, they will figure out a way to access a laptop or tablet. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Another option: filtering software. Your child’s devices may come with basic filtering, but it likely won’t be enough to give you peace of mind in setting time limits. Consider investing in filtering software for all of your family devices, which will come with the time limits you can all agree on. Do your research, so your family’s technology does what you intended — empower, educate, and entertain.

3. Take the phone. Have you overlooked the easiest solution? If you’re serious about your child’s sleep habits, simply take the phone at bedtime and return it in the morning.Make a privacy promise not to snoop around on your child’s phone every night. Taking the phone may cause an uproar but that’s okay, you are not running for Mayor — you are a parent and the guardian of your child’s health.

How are you dealing with balancing tech in your home? Please share!






Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).

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