This morning as I was getting ready for the day, my 2 1/2 year old was watching Sesame Street. In the show, the segments change every few minutes or so and seem to weave old-school 1970’s content (familiar to me) with newly created vignettes that have a modern feel and construction. I like it nearly as much as the boys. One of the stories this morning was about tooth fairies. An animated group of fairies were detailing how they got to the tooth under a child’s pillow (lifting up the child) to replace it with a golden coin. Mind you, I was coming and going from the room and didn’t view the whole story. However at one point, the fairies accidentally turn on the child’s TV and worry it might wake the child, ultimately uncovering their work and secret magic.
A TV in the child’s bedroom? No way, Sesame.
If it were my child, I’d never allow a TV in a child’s bedroom. Plain and simple, I know it’s not good for them and ultimately will only detract from their life. When I talk to families in my practice, I say that TV in the bedroom is just never going to make their life better. It won’t enhance. Unfortunately, what I hear is that it might make a parent’s life better. Some families really do come to rely on it as did I this AM while I was getting ready. But we need to figure out ways to use it better. When I talk with families about reducing media time, I talk about media use and the substantial effect junk food advertising has on children actually asking for and eating junk food, how distracted eating (eating in front of a screen) may contribute to obesity, how TV contributes to disrupted and poor quality of sleep, and the studies that find early TV exposure increases the risk for attention challenges. TV doesn’t help language development either, I say that too.
TV can be a great way for children to learn cooperation and model friendship or empathy if shown educational programming geared for their age. In balance, TV isn’t all-bad. Of course we make screen time decisions in the context of life. But I must say, I really don’t think TV will make your child smarter.
The timing of this Sesame episode this morning was uncanny. Today, the AAP published a policy statement from The Council on Communications and Media (full disclosure: I sit on this council) entitled, “Children, Adolescents, Obesity and the Media” detailing effects of screen time/media and junk-food advertising on children in relation to obesity. The authors state, “Sufﬁcient evidence exists to warrant a ban on junk-food or fast-food advertising in children’s TV programming.” and they point out that, “Pediatricians need to ask 2 questions about media use at every well-child or well-adolescent visit”
- How much screen time is being spent per day?
- Is there a TV set or Internet connection in the child’s bedroom?
I also tell families that TV watching is not as cognitively sedating as our instincts may suggest. TV viewing in the 1-2 hours before bed seems to rev kids up, not wind them down. Today, more data to support this. Dr. Michelle Garrison, Kimberly Liekweg, and Dr Dimitri Christakis from Seattle Children’s, published a study in Pediatrics describing violent-TV’s effect on preschoolers. They studied over 600 children between 3 and 5 years of age and reviewed their TV/media diaries.
- Dr. Garrison et al found that preschoolers watched on average over an hour of TV daily (72.9 min) with the minority being at bedtime (14 min after 7pm).
- They also found that children with a bedroom TV watched 40 more minutes of TV than those without one. Not surprisingly, children with a bedroom TV watched more TV after 7pm as well.
- Violent TV viewing in the daytime and TV after 7pm disrupted sleep for the preschoolers.
- Children with a bedroom TV were more likely to have parent-reported daytime tiredness (8% vs 1% without bedroom TV).
- Children were more likely to have trouble falling asleep, have more nightmares, and more awakenings if in the 1 hour prior to going to bed, they watched TV, violent or not.
- Fortunately, nonviolent daytime TV didn’t seem to change or impair preschoolers’ sleep.
- It didn’t make a difference on sleep if parents watched TV alongside their children.
A TV (or iPad, computer, or smartphone) in the bedroom makes pre-bedtime viewing that much more common. Once a screen is in a child’s room, it will be difficult to get it out. Most estimates find that about 1/3 of every preschooler in America has a TV in their bedroom (some studies as high as 40%). So something about this is very appealing to many families.
What’s your take? Do you follow the AAP’s guidelines for no TV prior to age 2 and then after age 2, only 2 hours maximum screen time daily? Do you think it’s crazy to recommend no TV for an hour or two prior to bed? Do you share my frustration with Sesame Street over the vignette they presented with a TV in the bedroom?
I was actually reading Nurture Shock sometime ago, and their take on it was that the non-violent children’s programming actually produced emotionally-aggressive children (the problems that crop up in social settings that they portray, the kids don’t usually pay attention to the very short conclusion in which everything is made right again…) and violent television programs did produce an uptick in violence, but it was very small: particularly when compared to the educational program viewing kiddos.
I do let my kids watch some of the children’s anime (some of it is fighting oriented, but it’s displayed in a way that is an extension of “spirit”,and has a great deal of positives that come along with it) and educational programs. I don’t really put a cap on it, but no screens are allowed in their room (small room anyhow). Comics are one of those things I studied in school. I still like them, and enjoy sharing that with them.
In short, I guess I don’t follow the guidelines, and don’t really worry over it too much… We try to give the kids a variety of activities/experiences, and media is a great way to fill in the in between spaces. We’ve never had trouble with sleep-time, or using media viewing as a way to calm them down, but reading even for just 15 minutes before lights out seems to really set them up to relax even if they’ve been running circles for hours.
Most frustrating comment from parent who confesses to tv in bedroom,”But he almost never watches it.”
We don’t have specific time guidelines on tv but we do have a few rules like when tv can be watched and it either has to be a show we’ve seen before and approved, or our daughter has to watch it with us and if we deem it inappropriate we turn it off right away.
My completely non-scientific observation for my daughter and her friends (she is going into second grade) is that my daughter gets more obstinate and complains of being bored a lot MORE compared to how much tv she watches. Her two friends whose parents leave the tv on Cartoon Network from breakfast until they go to bed at night are the ones who are the worst for coming over and complaining about being bored after just a few minutes and no games sound good – they just want to watch tv and play video games (which we don’t generally allow on playdates).
It has helped for me to explain to my daughter that in my opinion tv saps your ability to be creative. So, like junk food it is fun once in awhile, if you have too much of it and not enough healthy food, your body becomes weak and unhealthy and it’s hard to have fun like that. TV is the same as junk food, too much tv and not enough outdoor play and imaginative play and reading will make one’s mind feel weak and out of shape and it’s much harder to have fun. So, she’s starting to be able to monitor her own tv watching too and turning it off because she wants to do “something creative”. Of course, those instances are rare and I still need to monitor it most of the time.
Also, no Cartoon Network in our house! I think that station is awful. Most of the cartoons (not all – but most I’ve seen) are weird and obnoxious and the characters are rude and find humor in hurting each other’s feelings. Plus, there are more commercials than program. So, no Cartoon Network and mute the commercials on other channels. PBS is nice – no commercials per se. Disney Channel at least only has commercials for their other movies and music and we’re also finding other fun stations like Food Network to watch cooking shows.
I know I sound really strict but I’m finding it brings great results. My daughter (so far!) is a happy girl who eschews the phrase “I’m bored” as unnecessary.
SARAH JORDAN says
I don’t know how people find time for television, particularly when you have children. I’ve never owned a TV, and thank goodness, I get to spend my time playing with my kids, reading them, teaching them about the world, visiting friends and family, and playing outside. It’s a great blessing.
Melissa Arca, M.D. says
I agree, no TV or computer in a child’s bedroom…and if we can get those iphones and DS games out of their bedrooms that would be great too!
I know kids who stay up extremely late hours playing those handheld video games…not good!
I agree with the AAP guidelines, it makes good sense and helps us as parents to set time limits as well. I have to admit my youngest started watching TV prior to age of 2 but very limited of course.
I tell parents to set a timer for 20 minutes, their child can watch an “episode” or have computer time, then it’s time to get moving and do another activity. It’s easier to keep track of screen time that way.
Lack of sleep, obesity, and overuse of screen media are so intertwined that it’s best and makes common sense to limit TV/screen time and only use in moderation.
Thanks for the great post Dr.Swanson.
I totally agree. No TV or any other electronics in the bedroom and limited screen time especially during the school year. My 8 year old has a wonderful imagination, loves to read and play outside. My two and one year olds don’t get any screen time at all and could really care less.
I think the AAP guideline is ridiculously lenient. If your child watched 2 hrs of TV per day every day, that would account for 1 full month each year. For the younger kids, who are often awake for only ballpark 12 hrs per day, that’s 2 months of awake time each year. Sure, rationing it out does mitigate the harm. I just can’t help but think of the opportunity cost for 2 yr olds and preschoolers.
My kids get to watch a show occasionally. Usually when a friend brings along a DVD on a playdate. The post-TV malaise is noticeable after about 30-45 mins with 4-5 yr olds. I used to worry about my kids being weird if they didn’t know who Yo Gabba Gabba was. Luckily, there are plenty of families out there with minimalist viewing habits.
I’d like to see the study that links kids behavior issues or tiredness …etc with bad parents. I’m not saying that it is the TV that is or is not the problem but I feel like the same person that lets thier kid watch 2 hours of TV everyday is the same person that does not spend enough time with them.
TV in a child’s bedroom is definitely too far. I personally don’t even allow toys in H’s bedroom, other than stuffed animals. I don’t encourage H to play toys in her room. If any toys were brought into her bedroom, she knows well to bring them back to the toy bins when she is done. I’m trying to designate her bedroom as sleeping-only, and later, studying-only. So with that said, TV in bedroom is definitely a no-no for us and won’t ever be considered. I personally don’t know any parents who put a TV in their child’s bedroom, so that concept actually is foreign to me.
I didn’t follow the 2-hour max daily screen time (mommy-guilt comes in). I cheat. H gets TV time 3 days out of the week but it’s more than 2 hours/per day when she gets it, so I just say “Hey it’s averaged out!” LOL! In terms of TV before bedtime, I found that with H, if I allow a movie she is familiar with and something I know she doesn’t get too excited about, then it doesn’t affect her sleep. I definitely won’t put in a new movie before her bed time.
However, I have to disagree though on the point about helping with language development. H is bilingual. She has been in daycare since she was 4 months old and she is exposed to English there and now preschool. We speak only Cantonese at home and ask all our friends and families who speak Cantonese to speak that to H. H is allowed to watch TV but they are all in Cantonese and age-appropriate to her (Disney & Pixar movies are translated into Cantonese and we buy them from Asia and bought an all-region DVD player so we can play them). I have to say those Cantonese TV that H watched has contributed to her range of Cantonese vocabulary. I have to admit that there’s some slang involved but with careful selection that can be eliminated.
That’s so cool! I’m just out of college now, and I had many friends whose biligual skills started to diminish around elementary school because they were not encouraged to speak it outside the home and all the media IN the home was presented in English. I think that’s a great way to help your daughter!
I appreciate all the studies done on television viewing and how it effects your child, but the main reason I do not allow a television or internet connection in my daughter’s bedroom is because if she is in her bedroom watching tv…then we are not together. The last thing I want is for each person in our family to be watching television in different rooms. For me, not having a tv in the bedroom means we are together.
I don’t let my daughter have a TV in her room, she hardly plays with my phone, unless we’re out and I need her occupied and my husband and I don’t have any tablets or whatnot. She gets TV time from 8:30-10:00 mostly, then TV goes off and radio goes on (I have to have some type of white noise) and we play inside or outside, take walks, go to the park, see friends, etc. Her imagination at nearly 3 is incredible. A few weeks ago, she was obsessed with being a princess and having a cake from the ground. So we made her “dirt” and she loved it. When the TV is on she’s also doing something like reading her books or playing or coloring. She’ll only sit and watch one show.
She has a friend who takes her mom’s iPhone, iPad and who has a TV in her bedroom and she has a tablet herself. When the two girls play, my daughter goes straight for the toys like babies and trucks and blocks and the other little girl just plays with her tablet, and it frustrates my daughter to the point she hides everything so her friend will play. I think that’s the saddest part of all this technology around young children, is the lack of social skills in the next generation.
Khryzialyn Ciar says
This article is very significant to all the parents out there. It’s true. How much impact TV has on children depends on factors such as how much they watch, their age and personality. Whether they watch alone or with adults, and whether their parents talk to them about what they see on TV.