Kids sleep with their cell phones: Are they suffering from connection addiction?

In this gcast podcast, I discuss what my son told me about his friends “sleeping with their cell phones” under their pillow and texting through the night. I've talked to three different groups of students and all of them report that over half of their friends will cell phones sleep with them under their pillow on vibrate and text through the night. I ponder the issue of connection addiction — it is not internet addiction — it is connection addiction and how we're working with this on the digiteen project –

Danah Boyd really opened my eyes to the cell phone phenomenon. Many schools haven't come to grip w/ Web 2.0 — Web 3.0 may be the cell phone connection? Maybe we're wrapped up in geekiness and missing what is REALLY going on. (Wouldn't be the first time!)

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Robert May 4, 2008 - 7:57 pm

Even as a teacher, I’m guilty of this. I don’t text throughout the night, and I’ve done my best to turn off notifications/sounds at night, but my cellphone is definitely my main mode of communication.
With students already not getting enough sleep because of homework, sports, extracurricular clubs, and trying to have a social life, the electronics-interruptions just add to the problems.

MariaD May 4, 2008 - 8:37 pm

This reminds me of a scene from “The Continuity Concept” (I believe, unless I got mixed up) – a book by a young and inexperienced anthropologist that generated a large following, nevertheless. The tribe she described slept together in a big house, and would wake each other up to tell a joke, for example, or just to chat briefly. They did not ever seem to mind. Families that practice attachment parenting, including co-sleeping, use this example to claim that uninterrupted sleep separate from others is a cultural invention, not a biological imperative. I will now go search for the proper reference.

Teens forming virtual tribal sleeping huts by cell phones? How interesting…

Lisa Nielsen May 4, 2008 - 10:08 pm

I’m not sure it’s so different then when earlier generations were sneaking calls in the middle of the night, were sneaking out, or throwing stones at the windows of boy/girlfriends. Teens have always had connection addiction and parents have always tried to get in the way. Isn’t this just the 2.0 version?

MariaD May 5, 2008 - 2:54 am

“The Continuity Concept” quote about a tribe that I mentioned in my other comment:

“It was in fact very like their habit of telling a joke in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep. Though some were snoring loudly, all would awaken instantly, laugh, and in seconds resume sleep, snoring and all. They did not feel that being awake was more unpleasant than being asleep, and they awoke fully alert, as when a distant pack of wild boar was heard by all the Indians simultaneously, though they had been asleep, while I, awake and listening to the sounds of the surrounding jungle, had noticed nothing.”

KMulford May 5, 2008 - 3:00 am

Great post. We all know that teens today are sleep-deprived, and that the research on sleep even tells us that school start times should be based upon biological rhythms rather than bus companies’ maximization of routes.

I am deeply disturbed by this phenomenon you bring up in your gcast. My son’s babysitter has told me about this habit of hers before, and I was incredulous. [At the time, I passed it off as a phase of her youth. I recall those (many) years when I could get by on 2 or 3 hours of sleep and be no worse off for it.]

At the same time, I do recall that some of the literature (mostly that which I’ve read regarding school start times) cites studies about the damage that can be caused by too little or “frequently interrupted” sleep.

Surely most of us who have children can recall the bleary days of early parenthood when that baby woke us throughout the night. Imagine what that must do to a person half that age! And yet, this is a practice they “subscribe” to. They CHOOSE to sleep with that cell phone.

How very great must their need be, to choose “connectedness” over a basic life need?

Maurice Draggon May 5, 2008 - 3:29 am

Web 3.0 is already here if it is the cell phone connection. Most kids do not have schedules that allow them to sit in front of computers long enough. Cell phones are also cheap and internet connected. The tool in the hand of most students is the tool most schools ban.

John Hendron May 5, 2008 - 12:39 pm


I shared your podcast with our teachers this morning in Goochland County by posting a link to your post on our district social network. I asked teachers to informally poll their students about sleeping with cell phones, and comment back with what they find.

This revelation does not surprise me, but it does frighten me just a bit. Thanks for sharing your story.

Vicki A. Davis May 5, 2008 - 1:32 pm

@robert – Me too — sometimes I forget that 4info text message that comes at 7 am and it interrupts my peaceful weekend slumber. We definitely learn to control it and not it control us.

@mariad – It is very interesting what is happening. I have yet to understand it myself.

@lisa – Something tells me this is a bit more widespread.

@kmulford – I think it is something we should discuss and look into. As I too asked people after getting over my own incredulity — I do think this is something that is happening a lot more than we might think.

@maurice – I’m not sure if cell phones will be considered web 3 – I do think it is at least web2b or something — it is definitely a NEW WEB that many are not truly understanding, myself included.

@john – Please share your results with us! I’d really like to know!

John May 6, 2008 - 1:55 am

This gained some interest on our network. Thus far, the report at the high school level is that between 25-33% of kids sleep with cell phones on vibrate under the pillow, or on a very close nightstand.

One teacher wants to go further and conduct some more “scientific” study.

Eric Go May 7, 2008 - 1:09 pm

It seems I am guilty of sleeping with my cellphone.

I just do hope that the radiation doesn’t cause cancer… :-)


leather sporrans April 4, 2011 - 12:56 pm

well i think everybody has been habitual of sleeping with their cell phones.

coolcatteacher April 5, 2011 - 12:41 pm

Everybody? Not me. ;-)

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