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Having a TV in the bedroom can affect preschoolers' development

Researchers say television pulls children away from more beneficial activities

Photo (c) garysludden - Getty Images
Though experts say watching TV can be disruptive to sleep, many consumers put a TV in the bedroom to help unwind before bedtime. But according to a new study, the habit could be detrimental for children of preschool age.

Researchers from the University of Montreal recently conducted a study and found that having a TV in the bedroom can affect preschoolers’ development, as too much time in front of the television prohibits children from engaging in more enriching activities.

“The early years are a critical period in a child’s development,” said researcher Linda Pagani. “Intuitively, parents know that how their children spend their leisure time will impact their well-being over the long term. And with TV being the most common pastime, it’s clear that the many hours they spend in front of the screen is having an effect on their growth and development, especially if the TV is in a place like the bedroom.”

Reaching optimal development

To see the effect frequent TV-watching had on young children’s development, the researchers followed a group of nearly 2,000 newborns through early adolescence.

According to Pagani, the group wanted to “examine whether there was a link between having a bedroom TV at age 4, during the neurodevelopmentally critical preschool period, and later physical, mental, and social problems in early adolescence.”

The study ended when the children were 13, and the researchers assessed their body mass indices (BMIs), eating habits, sociability in school, and emotional stressors. They then had the participants complete the Children’s Depression Inventory. Combined, these factors would give the researchers an idea of whether or not the participants would have any issues growing into adulthood.

Ultimately, the researchers found that having a TV in the bedroom led to several unhealthy habits that started in childhood and moved into adolescence.

The children with TVs in their bedrooms had unlimited access to screens, but they were also more likely to have poor eating habits, higher BMIs, greater emotional stress, more symptoms of depression, and lower levels of sociability.

The researchers attribute these traits to the children spending too much time in front of the TV and not enough time engaging in social or physical activities. They suggest that parents follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines for screen time, especially from a young age, so children start good habits as early as possible.

“The location of the TV seems to matter,” Pagani said. “Having private access to screen time in the bedroom during the preschool years does not bode well for long-term health. Our research supports a strong stance for parental guidelines on the availability and accessibility of TVs and other devices.”

Regulating screen time for little ones

Researchers have found that screen time among the youngest demographic has more than doubled in the last two decades, and it’s more important than ever for parents to regulate how much time their young children spend in front of screens.

Despite the need to ensure children only spend a certain amount of time in front of screens each day, a recent study found that controlling children’s behavior with screen time can backfire by leading to even more time in front of screens.

“It’s similar to how we wouldn’t use sugary treats as rewards because by doing so we can heighten the attraction to them,” said researcher Jessica Haines. “When you give food as a reward, it makes children like the carrot less and the cake more. Same thing with screen time.”

However, setting some ground rules around what’s appropriate for time in front of an electronic device -- and cutting back on that time -- has been effective in improving children’s cognition.

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