Debates such as “is TV bad for children” and “do violent movies/video games make kids violent” have now been running for decades. More recently, electronic devices like smartphones and tablets have been thrown into the mix. Just how harmful is it for children to have these things in their bedrooms and to potentially use them excessively?
There can be touches of technophobia, nostalgia and moral indignation in such debates, that make some people question anything new which has a big impact on society. People assume books are “better” than TV because they have been around longer, even though TV can be highly educational and enlightening.
Equally, devices like smartphones and tablets don’t necessarily have to be used by children for frivolous or dangerous purposes.
However, it also stands to reason that if a child spends a significant amount of time cooped up in their bedroom with only electronic devices for company, there will inevitably be some negative impacts.
Are children using their time wisely?
Studies looking at media exposure in general (not only in bedrooms) have suggested that the exposure can lead to greater obesity, worse performance in school, and increased risk of aggression and addictive behavior.
Just recently, there has been specific research into how the presence of devices in the bedroom impacts kids.
An article published in the journal Development Psychology explains the work of Douglas A. Gentile of Iowa State University, and a team of American and Chinese researchers, who re-examined several previous studies.
The team was concerned with two main issues: the displacement hypothesis, which questions whether too much time spent in a bedroom with digital devices means greater obesity, poorer grades and lowered social interaction, and the content hypothesis, which is concerned with the greater privacy children have in their bedrooms to look at potentially harmful content without parental supervision.
Psychology Today explains that the researches looked at three previous studies in order to examine the questions.
The first followed 430 children from five public and private schools in Minnesota, with their teachers also being involved. The participants consisted of 119 students in the third grade, 119 students in the fourth grade, and 192 students in the fifth grade. They were divided between males and females more or less evenly.
Over six months, experts observed the participants to gather data on bedroom media, how much time they spent watching television or playing video games, aggressive behaviour (based on self-report along with the opinions of peers and teachers), along with violence ratings of TV shows, movies, or video games they liked.
In the second study, 1,323 third to fifth grade students from 10 elementary schools were studied for 13 months, with their parents also involved. Again, they were questioned about bedroom media, exposure to media violence, how much time they spent each week watching television and playing video games, Body Mass Index (BMI) scores, and how many minutes they spent each week reading for fun. The study also asked for teacher ratings of student academic performance and aggression.
The third study was based in Singapore. Over two years, it looked at 3,034 children and adolescents recruited from 12 different schools in the country. It examined 2179 males and 819 females with an average age of 11, asking very similar questions to the other two studies.
The results of the research
In all of the studies, third to fifth grade students with excessive screen time tended to do worse at school, based on teacher ratings, and also had higher body mass index (BMI). Children were also more at risk of displaying Internet Gaming Disorder (a contentious condition) and physical aggression, and this was generally the case regardless of age or nationality.
Results largely supported both the displacement and content hypotheses. Specifically with regard to the latter, increased contact with violent content did appear to make participants more prone to aggressive behaviour.
The findings, then, seem to support the American Academy of Pediatrics’ warning against devices in children’s bedroom. It should be noted that different studies and groups question the ability of violent entertainment content to make people act violently. But at the very least, children’s usage of digital devices in bedrooms should be carefully monitored.