Preschoolers who spend too much time in front of the bedroom TV are at risk of not getting enough physical and social interactions to promote proper physical and socio-emotional development, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatric Research.
The findings show that 4-year-olds with a bedroom TV are more likely to develop a much higher body mass index (BMI), lower levels of sociability and have higher levels of emotional distress, depressive symptoms, victimization and physical aggression.
“The early years are a critical period in a child’s development,” said study author Dr. Linda Pagani, a professor at the University of Montreal’s School of Psycho-Education, who recently presented her findings at the International Convention of Psychological Science in Paris.
“Intuitively, parents know that how their children spend their leisure time will impact their well-being over the long term,” said Pagani. “And with TV being their most common pastime, 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.”
With their attention diverted, kids risk not having enough physical and social interactions to encourage proper physical and socio-emotional development, Pagani said.
“To test that hypothesis, we longitudinally followed a birth cohort to examine whether there was a link between having a bedroom TV at age 4, during the neurodevelopmentally critical preschool period, and later physical, mental, and social problems in early adolescence. Our goal was to eliminate any pre-existing conditions the children or families had that could bias our results.”
For the study, the researchers analyzed Canadian birth cohort data of 1,859 Quebec children born between the spring of 1997 and the spring of 1998, part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development coordinated by the Institut de la statistique du Québec.
To assess the children’s health at age 13, independent examiners measured their body mass index; adolescents also reported their intake of unhealthy foods. To determine any psychological problems, teachers rated how much emotional stress the children faced.
The teens also completed a short version of the Children’s Depression Inventory. To evaluate social problems, teachers reported how well the children got along with their peers and whether they were bullied. All these factors are good predictors of physical and mental health in adulthood.
The findings were clear: Having a TV in the bedroom at age 4 made it more likely the child would later have a significantly higher body mass index, more unhealthy eating habits, lower levels of sociability, and higher levels of emotional distress, depressive symptoms, victimization and physical aggression, regardless of individual and family factors that would have predisposed them to such problems.
“The location of the TV seems to matter,” Pagani said. “Having private access to screen time in the bedroom during the preschool years does not bode well for long-term health. The children in our study were born at a time when television was the only screen in the bedroom.”
“Today, given the portability of digital devices and the constant switching from one device to another, the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics 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. Our research supports a strong stance for parental guidelines on the availability and accessibility of TVs and other devices.”
Source: University of Montreal