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TV and Video Games in Kids' Bedrooms Are a Very Bad Idea

New research suggests they are a destructive diversion.

Not to get too local-television-newsy on you, but there's a danger lurking in your child's bedroom. This common household item has been linked to both lower grades and increased aggressive behavior, potentially imperiling your son or daughter's future.

You know it as a TV set. Or, for that matter, a video-game console.

New research finds a strong link between the presence of such devices in youngsters' bedrooms and a number of unwanted outcomes.

It suggests kids who are allowed to close their doors and fixate on their screens are more likely to have both academic and emotional issues, in part because they sleep less, read less, or both.

"Bedroom media are surprisingly robust in their negative outcomes," a research team led by Iowa State University psychologist Douglas Gentile writes in the journal Developmental Psychology. It finds "broad and long-lasting" effects in children of different ages, as well as residing in different nations.

Third- through fifth-grade children who had a bedroom TV at the beginning of the school year performed more poorly than those who did not.

The researchers analyzed data from three different studies, and found remarkable consistency. They featured 430 third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders from Minnesota; 1,323 third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders from Iowa and Minnesota; and 3,034 third- through eighth-graders in Singapore. The kids were tracked for six months, 13 months, and two years, respectively.

The methodology of the studies varied somewhat, but all three recorded both the kids' school grades and aggressive behavior. The two American studies noted whether they had TVs in their bedrooms; the one in Singapore asked if they had video-game consoles in theirs. That latter study included information on sleeping patterns, while the 13-month one noted the participants' body-mass index.

"We found similar results in all three," Gentile and his colleagues report. Across the board, kids with access to screens in their rooms spent more time watching or playing on the devices than those who did not. That meant they spent less time on such important tasks as reading and sleeping.

Not surprisingly, this had a variety of negative consequences. Some examples:

  • Third- through fifth-grade children who had a bedroom TV at the beginning of the school year performed more poorly than those who did not, according to accounts given by their teachers in both the fall and subsequent spring.
  • Kids with TVs or consoles in their rooms were more likely to have weight problems, indicating "screen time is likely displacing physical activity."
  • They were also exposed to more media violence, "which increases the likelihood for aggressive behavior." The results suggest this is due, at least in part, to the fact that violent content inspires "the belief that aggression is normal."

This destructive dynamic impacts a whole lot of kids. A 2003 study found more than 40 percent of four- to six-year-olds, and over 70 percent of kids eight and older, had a TV in their bedroom.

2010 study estimates half of all American children over age seven have video-game consoles in their rooms. In the current era of ever-smaller electronic devices, those percentages are probably already out of date.

Gentile admits it is hard to say no to your children, especially when they pleadingly point to the more permissive behavior of their friends' parents. "That two-letter word is tough," he admitted in announcing these results, "but it's worth it."