Children who have a television or video games in their bedroom spend less time reading and sleeping, research suggests. Consequences include poor performance at school, greater risk of obesity, and even video game addiction.
Further, children with bedroom media watched programs and played video games that were more violent, which increased levels of physical aggression. It stands to reason that most parents are not fully aware of what is happening behind closed doors, says Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University and lead author of the study in Developmental Psychology.
“When most children turn on the TV alone in their bedroom, they’re probably not watching educational shows or playing educational games. Putting a TV in the bedroom gives children 24-hour access and privatizes it in a sense, so as a parent you monitor less and control their use of it less.”
The study uses data from Gentile’s previous studies on screen time and media content. While some of the results mirror the findings in those studies, the new work also finds that having bedroom media significantly changes the amount of time children spend with media, changes what they view, and also changes what children do not do, like read.
Children now spend as much as 60 hours a week in front of some kind of screen and more than 40% of children ages 4-6 have a TV in their bedroom. A substantial majority of children eight and older have a TV or video game console in their bedrooms.
While the current study looked specifically at TVs and video games in the bedroom, Gentile expects the effects to be the same, if not stronger, given the access children now have to digital devices. He has talked with parents worried about their child’s digital media use or how best to set limits. Concerns include children accessing questionable content and responding in the middle of the night to text messages or social media alerts.
Keeping media out of bedrooms may cause a battle in the short term, but will benefit children in the long term, he says.
“It’s a lot easier for parents to never allow a TV in the bedroom than it is to take it out. It’s a question every parent must face, but there is a simple two-letter answer. That two-letter answer is tough, but it is worth it.”
There is no direct link between the physical presence of a TV and poor grades, Gentile says. Rather, bedroom media makes it easier for children to spend more time watching or playing, instead of doing other beneficial, healthy activities.
Researchers tracked children over a period of 13 and 24 months and found bedroom media (both TV and video games) increased total screen time, which indirectly affected school grades. The data pointed to one explanation—third through fifth grade students who spent more time watching TV, spent less time reading.
Increased screen time was also linked to higher body mass index, physical aggression, and symptoms of video game addiction.
“We know from decades of research on addiction that the No. 1 predictor of addiction is access. You can’t be addicted to gambling, if there is no place to gamble,” Gentile says. “Access is certainly the gateway to a wide range of effects, both positive and negative.”
Olivia Berch worked with Gentile on the study as an undergraduate at Iowa State. Hyekyung Choo, National University of Singapore; Angeline Khoo, Nanyang Technological University; and David Walsh, Mind Positive Parenting also contributed to the research.