Bedroom TVs Encourage Unhealthy Habits for Kids
> 4/9/2008 8:05:37 AM

Even in the era of the world wide web, television is an immutable part of the modern landscape, and industrialized nations find its presence nearly inescapable: the average American watches approximately 28 hours of TV every week. Even those who don't actually own a TV or don't subscribe to cable services are familiar with quite a few of its institutions. But alongside the overwhelming popularity of the medium, a small debate has long raged about its relative merits and negative effects. One wonders how much time can be spent exercising, socializing, and engaging in productive hobbies when so much of the average citizen's waking time is spent in front of the screen.

Most of us start watching TV quite early in life, and a good deal of research has been dedicated to figuring out what effect so much screen time is having on kids and teens. Recent surveys estimate that well over half of our kids have TVs in their bedrooms, and some place that number as high as 70%... for third graders. These stats will raise the eyebrows of many parents and pediatricians who advocate media moderation, and new research confirms the validity of their fears. Surveys show that kids who watch lots of TV are more likely to be overweight, experience sleep problems, perform poorly in school and, yes, even take up smoking.

These problems are understandably exacerbated if the kids in question have personal TV sets in their own rooms. Kids with TVs in their rooms watched nearly 9 more hours each week for a grand total of 30. And parents have no way of knowing exactly what they're watching or how much time they spend doing it. In one recent study, researchers placed monitors on each household TV set. Children were required to enter a code in order to watch TV, and half of the sets in the study were programmed to cut viewing times in half by shutting down after kids had watched their weekly quotas. After two years, the kids with limited TV time had lower relative BMIs despite the fact that there were only very minor differences in exercise levels.

Reduced snacking, rather than physical activity, proved to be the key to these healthier waistlines - kids with time limits consumed an average of 100 fewer calories each day. Because internet usage is more interactive, requiring more movement with the hands in particular and therefore not lending itself to snacking in quite the same way as television, computers in general seem to have a more benign influence than television. More studies are obviously needed, but a recent California survey revealed that, while the 70% of kids who said they had TVs in their bedrooms predictably got lower-than-average scores on math, reading, and language-arts tests, those with computers actually scored higher. TV is a very easy distraction that actually does discourage kids from attending to their studies.

The health problems associated with excessive television only build with age: a study of middle-schoolers aged 12-14 found that those with TVs in their bedrooms were nearly 3 times as likely to smoke cigarettes. Many of these studies focused on teenagers, but viewing trends begin much earlier. 40% of 3-month-olds and a whopping 90% of 2-year-olds watch TV regularly despite repeated recommendations for a total TV blackout until the age of 2 or 3. In a natural extension of this trend, many kids have bedroom TVs as early as kindergarten. More than 1/3 of those aged 3-6 have their own sets, actually, and a recent study of their number revealed a greater incidence of sleep problems and a compromised sense of emotional responsivity - the longstanding caricature of numb, zombified kids whose eyes are glued to the screen may be too close to reality for comfort.

So why do parents put TVs in their kids' rooms in the first place, especially after so much research urges them not to? Some of the trend is socioeconomic in origin. Parents who work long hours more often rely on their children to entertain themselves, and giving them their own TVs is the easiest way to do it. So is inattentive parenting to blame? Not really. Many of these parents grew up with bedroom sets themselves and see it as a standard practice. But they might want to read a bit more on the subject, because the results of these extended studies are clear: no matter how mature or responsible your kids happen to be, placing televisions in their bedrooms is a bad idea.

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