Many parents worry about the time their kids spend using smartphones but are less strict about TV time. Is it because kids don't watch TV anymore? Remember that using a smartphone, playing video game consoles, and watching TV all add up to your child's screen time. And 4-year-olds who spend too much time watching TV in the bedroom can be bad news.
Researchers from the Université de Montréal’s School of Psychoeducation and the INRS-IAF, a research institute affiliated with the Université du Québec à Montréal, in Canada, analyzed data from more than 1,800 kids born between 1997 to 1998. They checked up on the kids' at ages 4 and between 12 and 13.
The results of the study, which was published in Pediatric Research, strongly suggest that the placement of the TV had a significant effect on the kids viewing habits, and consequently on their physical, socio-emotional, and mental development.
The researchers based their findings on the tweens' body mass index (BMI) measurements and self-reporting of junk food intake. The young kids also completed a compressed version of the Children's Depression Inventory, a psychological assessment that rates the severity of symptoms related to depression in children, and their teachers feedback on how the kids got along with their peers and whether they were bullied.
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"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 private place like the bedroom," study author Linda Pagani, a professor at UdeM's School of Psycho-Education said via a press release. "Having private access to screen time in the bedroom during the preschool years does not bode well for long-term health."
Having a TV in the bedroom at age 4 made it more likely that the child would later have a significantly higher BMI, which translates to adopting more unhealthy habits as a child. It also means these kids are more prone to being overweight or obese, which is a factor in developing serious health conditions such as heart ailments.
Watching TV in the bedroom for extended periods was also linked to "lower levels of sociability, higher levels of emotional distress, depressive symptoms, victimization, and physical aggression." The researchers did not even factor in yet the child and his family's mental health history.
"Given the portability of digital devices and the constant switching from one device to another, the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) clearly have reason to encourage screen-free zones and screen-free locations at home, especially given the implications for the growth and development of children," Pagani stressed.
The AAP's recommendations state that keeping family mealtimes, family and social gatherings, and children's bedroom's screen free. Also — and moms and dads, you probably saw this coming already —parents should even get rid of the TV in the bedroom and charge your devices outside the sleeping space. Remember, kids will take after how you use gadgets!
Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that provides advice to help families make smart media and technology choices, identified three areas that should be gadget free at home. Apart from the dining room and the bedroom, it also adds that family cars, an extension of the house, should also be gadget-free for kids and parents alike.