Health

We Shouldn’t Let Smart Phones Soothe Our Children to Sleep

Americans have a real problem with stimulation and soothing. We are so accustomed to constant stimulation that formerly solitary and boring acts such as waiting in line and going to the bathroom are now filled with phones that entertain and inform. We rely on screens when we’re learning, when we’re working, when we need information or entertainment and, now, apparently, when we need to sleep.

A new smart phone ad, intended to announce batteries that last longer than human energy can, shows individuals across the life span falling asleep while watching all manner of content on screens. A security guard watching a football game and dozing, a father watching his baby, wide awake, in a crib as he nods off, and more. Worse, images of a child holding a screen close to their face as they fall asleep on the couch. If this weren’t troubling enough, the soundtrack for the ad is the gorgeous song, “Stay Awake” as sung by Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins. The lyrics, “Stay awake, don’t rest your head. While the moon drifts in the skies, stay awake, don’t close your eyes” are sung against a dreamy orchestral score.

In its original use the song was sung to children who wanted to stay up for more fun. Stubbornly unwilling to lie down or close their eyes to get the sleep that everyone could see they needed, Mary Poppins simply sits and sings until they are so soporific that they can’t help but nod off. In the ad version we first see the child sleeping softly with the phone on her chest. At the end, the child is breathing deeply, arm splayed out toward the floor with the phone still sputtering images and sounds while Julie Andrews’ voice croons, “Stay awake, don’t close your eyes.”

I have long worked to educate people about the way in which conflicting sensory data might lull us into being passive when we  should be critical. Recently, another ad that displayed many forms of technological advances, including home health aids deployed a particularly twisted use of the song “Que Sara Sara” as an overlay. The message, to me, is, “These things might be amazing. Or they might not be. Who knows? Regardless, leave it to us to determine what tech is going to be great for you. It’s no big deal. Que Sara, Sara, whatever will be will be. No need to consider. No need to think. No need to check in with your doctor, your friends, or your community.”

When I spoke about this phenomena at a middle school recently a student raised his hand and said, “It’s called irony and, clearly, you don’t get it.”

Perhaps irony this is the intent of the marketing efforts discussed here. Maybe they offer this ad as a light-hearted, ironic diorama of a vision we can all relate to: the desire to stay awake just a little longer to watch just one more episode, respond to one more email, send one more Tweet. Experiences such as this prompted me to study the impact of technology on mental health and well-being in depth. My research was also inspired by the shift in attitude I saw toward one of unquestioning acceptance of the role of technology in our lives. One of my more memorable professional experiences was when a pediatrician made a troubling suggestion to a client of mine whose nine-month old was experiencing a disrupted sleep cycle. His guidance? “Place a small television in close proximity to the crib and play a calming video at the same time every night.” There was nothing ironic about the physician’s suggestion.

There is also nothing ironic about the fact that technology is increasingly used to create what psychologist call an “external locus of control” in children. Simply put, this means that kids are being taught to look outside of themselves for soothing and calming and aren’t developing the internal skills they need to emotionally regulate themselves. The irony is really lost when we consider how much money corporations are raking in by providing devices that make children dependent on technology for stress relief and emotional wellness.

Ideally children would learn to live and to regulate themselves from an Internal Locus of Control, internalizing the manner in which important caregivers both offer them soothing and model how to take healthy care of themselves. When we ask our devices to soothe our children to sleep we hurt them in several ways. Disruption to circadian rhythms, exposure to harmful levels of blue light, and, most concerning to me, teaching children that stimulation is actually soothing all come with real consequences that a child will carry with them into adulthood.

Technology is not all bad. Not by any means. It brings us beauty and connections that significantly enhance our lives. Suggesting, however, even passively or ironically, that it should be a go-to source for comfort, relaxation, and peace is irresponsible and our kids will pay the price for it.

Source: pixelbay, used with permission


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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !

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