WHEN my daugh­ter was born in 2005, man­ag­ing cellphones at a sleep­over wasn’t even on my parenting radar. Thir­teen birth­days later, I agreed to host a slum­ber party with 13 girls. They would play games, watch movies, eat ice cream and sleep on our liv­ing-room floor. And cellphones were my main con­cern.

At 11pm, my daugh­ter put out a bright pink bas­ket and asked the 11 girls with phones to pass them over. Three phones ap­peared. I picked up the bas­ket and walked around to girls, still on their phones, and asked them to please put them in with the oth­ers. Five more phones. I put it on the ta­ble and made a gen­eral re­quest that any­one still hold­ing a phone put it with the oth­ers, and I went to get ready for bed. Ten min­utes later, I col­lected the phones from my daugh­ter.

“There’s nine,” she said. “That’s pretty good, right?”

Great. Some­where, shoved un­der pil­lows or stuffed an­i­mals, were two re­main­ing phones. I looked at my daugh­ter’s face and I could see her silently beg­ging me not to make a scene, not to go on a search, not to em­bar­rass her.

Parenting in the age of tech­nol­ogy comes with its own set of chal­lenges, and none is clearer to me, a newly minted par­ent of young teenagers, than how we reg­u­late cell­phone use.

The av­er­age age a child gets a cell­phone is 10. Ac­cord­ing to re­search re­leased last year by Nielsen, of the kids who have phones be­fore 13, 45% get them be­tween ages 10 and 12, and 16% have phones when they are eight. By the teenage years, 95% of kids have ac­cess to a smart­phone.

All of this trans­lates into more phones at younger ages, which means that phones are the norm in places where they used to be the ex­cep­tion. Places such as sleep­overs.

In the past two years, my daugh­ter has been in­vited to par­ties that use phones for scavenger hunts, pho­tos and mak­ing movies. But what hap­pens at 2am, when the games are done, and a par­ent is left with a group of kids, with rel­a­tively un­su­per­vised ac­cess to phones?

“What we see with sleep­overs is what I would call di­min­ished in­hi­bi­tion that comes with sleep de­pri­va­tion,” says Devo­rah Heit­ner, author of Screen­wise: Help­ing Kids Thrive (and Sur­vive) in Their Dig­i­tal World, and the blog Rais­ing Dig­i­tal Na­tives. “A kid who makes sen­si­ble de­ci­sions at 8am and 8pm might not be the kid who makes sen­si­ble de­ci­sions af­ter hours of junk food, of no sleep, of be­ing kind of worn down by peers.”

Our first ex­pe­ri­ence with this latenight lapse in judg­ment came two years ago, when my son woke up to a text that said: “We have taken your sis­ter”. Funny to her friends, when sent from her phone, but scary to my groggy son, who was con­vinced his sis­ter had been kid­napped.

He calmed down only when we called his sis­ter to show him she was fine. Plot twist: She was asleep, had no idea the text had been sent and felt ter­ri­ble about it. Be­yond the sleep de­pri­va­tion, kids are in a group with no exit at a sleep­over, and try­ing to fit in with their friends.

In­ter­net safety and cy­ber­bul­ly­ing have be­come hot top­ics for par­ents and tweens, and many par­ents use hard­ware or apps to cut off ac­cess to the in­ter­net, think­ing that will keep kids off adult sites and out of trou­ble. But lim­it­ing ac­cess doesn’t curb the trou­ble caused by phones at sleep­overs. | The Wash­ing­ton Post/ African News Agency (ANA)

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