We desperately need parents to control student device use at night

7 Mar 2022, 6:00

Parents want us to help their struggling child – but worrying habits at home are the biggest problem, writes Emma Boulton Roe

We are fighting a losing battle.

Another student of mine is struggling. Lethargic, desperately trying to focus and depressed. Not meeting his potential. In fact, he is far from being the best version of himself.

I try hard to find ways to help this student, with regular one-to-ones, a support plan, counselling referrals and trying out different techniques to engage him in sessions.

It turns out that there is a very easy fix for these issues.

The student in question is a gamer. He doesn’t sleep until 4am and his diet consists of junk food and energy drinks. 

This, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident. I have multiple students who seem to be surprised that the reason they are tired, feeling depressed and struggling with their workload is that they are not getting enough sleep.

The reason that they have headaches and can’t focus is that they are exhausted and have a poor diet. We have water fountains across the college yet they seem to be relying on fizzy drinks and high-caffeine energy drinks. 

When I asked one of my groups what limits they had imposed on their use of tech at home they all said none. The consensus was that they are responsible for managing their own time, and the consequences are theirs to deal with.

It seems that technology develops faster than most of us can keep up with. Parents may not be aware of the types of challenges their children are facing.

Today’s devices are more advanced than the ones we grew up with.

Internet safety, blue light disruption of the circadian rhythm, melatonin suppression, hours spent scrolling aimlessly through a multitude of social media apps, connection online to other gamers at all hours.

These are real and potentially damaging problems. 

The parent or guardian’s job, which is to set a regular bedtime and good sleep hygiene, is easier to implement with younger children.

The difficulty arises when you have young adults (16 years upwards) who work and are supposed to be independent learners in charge of their own timetable.

These students can eat chips and sweets for lunch every day if they like. They can spend their money on giant cans of energy drinks bought from the local shop. They might not listen to their parents ̶ they are nearly adults, after all.

Teachers are faced with many challenges when trying to engage learners in sessions. We spend precious time trying to negate the fallout from these bad habits.

Often, the full picture doesn’t come to light until further down the road.

Parents have complained to me that we aren’t supporting their child enough, yet I can have absolutely no control over what happens in their home. 

The pandemic has had a lasting effect on our students, not least on their mental health. Teachers have been similarly impacted, yet the push for progress and high grades is ever present.

I am single-handedly waging a war on energy drinks

Families face rising living costs and may be working extra hours, relying on their college-age kids to help out at home and take on more responsibility for themselves.

Perhaps the best place to implement healthy change would be within the tutorial programme.

Advice for parents on limiting screen time could be delivered in tandem with sessions for students, going back to basics on diet and sleep. (Perversely, there are apps for this very purpose.)

I advise on healthy eating. We talk about good bedtime routines. I am single-handedly waging a war on energy drinks. My team is in a unique position where we can combat some of the physical impacts of poor posture with warm-ups and yoga.

We try, at least, to instil a positive routine and work ethic into those we teach.

But until parents monitor their children’s device use, embed healthy sleep and food patterns, we are fighting a losing battle. 

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