Telly in the children's bedroom not a good idea, says new report
Following the Christmas period, many children’s bedrooms may look like mini digital hubs, with all sorts of new televisions, tablets, laptops and smartphones in the possession of children. The debate over whether or not to have televisions in a child’s bedroom is often a personal one, with some parents deciding to allow televisions albeit with strict limits.
New research due out this month by the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in the US has found, perhaps not surprisingly, that having a bedroom television could have a far greater impact on health and obesity levels among children than previously thought. The study, entitled Television, Adiposity and Cardiometabolic Risk in Children and Adolescents, found that children with a television in their bedrooms were more likely to watch more television and were shown to have more fat and subcutaneous adipose tissue mass, as well as higher waist circumference, when compared with their peers who did not have a bedroom television.
“A bedroom TV may create additional disruptions to healthy habits, above and beyond regular TV viewing,” said study co-author Amanda Staiano. “For instance, having a bedroom TV is related to lower amounts of sleep and lower prevalence of regular family meals, independent of total TV viewing time. Both short sleep duration and lack of regular family meals have been related to weight gain and obesity.”
In the Growing up in Ireland ( growingup.ie) report, the results showed that 45 per cent of Irish 9-year-olds had a television in their bedrooms. A 2007 pan-European study already established that over half of all Irish children watched more television that their European counterparts with some 60 per cent of children in Ireland aged 6-12 years, watching between one and a half and three hours’ television a day. This viewing time often increases, as children get older.
Highest levels of fat mass
The Pennington Biomedical Research Centre study found that participants with a television in the bedroom and those who watched it for more than two hours a day were two and a half times more likely to have the highest levels of fat mass.
The study also showed that having a television in a bedroom was linked with three times the odds of elevated cardiometabolic risk (such as cardiovascular disease and/or the development of Type 2 diabetes), elevated waist circumference, and elevated triglycerides (a type of fat found in the blood).
The full study will be published in this month’s issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The results tie in with a separate study from the University of Alberta in 2012 that also found that electronic devices, such as computers, televisions, and mobile phones in a child’s bedroom is linked with both poor sleep and obesity.
For parents, the topic can be a difficult one to navigate. By the age of 13 or 14-years, a great many children will have a combination of electronic hardware, from smartphones to laptop computers. It can be very difficult to police, especially when the majority of children are allowed bring such technology into their bedrooms. Paula Ryan, who is a food blogger ( paulaskitchentable.blogspot.ie/) and mother of three children, set up a television for her eldest son two years ago when he was 7 years old. Crucially, Paula and her husband control what the children view and when.
“The rule we have for the television is the same ones we have for the Nintendo, in that time on these devices is earned. The children get to spend so much time on these things once they have their rooms tidy and do chores. We have parental controls, so if our son wants to see anything other than what we agree, he needs a password. It’s always off after 9pm.”
Paula allows her other two children to enter the room of her 9-year-old and they can all watch television together. The television is never allowed during week nights and from 8pm onwards, she says, the downstairs area of her house is for adults only.
“In terms of the health side of it, I’d need to see more research before making a comment on it,” she says. Like many parents, the pressure to install a television in her son’s bedroom came, to a certain extent, from their peer group.
“A lot of kids in their class have televisions in their rooms and I don’t want them to feel odd for not having one. It is very controlled and I keep eye on everything. There will never be a computer in his room,” she says.
Someone who has experienced the impact of allowing televisions in some children’s bedrooms is Wexford school principal and father of three, Andy Hanrahan, who is opposed to children having televisions in their bedrooms under any circumstances. “For social, health and education reasons I am totally against it,” he says. “I teach fifth and sixth class and only two or three of the children out of 31 would have televisions in the bedrooms. Those who do, have strict rules about what to watch and the parents go in and make sure it is turned off.
“I suppose there is the thing that if someone is watching on their own there is often no adult supervision. If children think they can get away with it, they will.” Hanrahan says that televisions may be far easier to police than computers or smartphones and he does understand the pressures parents are under.
“Smartphones today have the capabilities that computers had a few years ago. I know parents who will switch off the wifi at night.” As a teacher, he says it is easy to spot the children who have been up late watching television, and that the number of hours of sleep required by your average 11-12 year-old is often underestimated.
“For 11- to 12-year-olds, it is generally recommended they get 10 to 11 hours sleep a night. Most would get less than that, and on nights of say Champions’ League soccer matches we do notice it the next morning. Peer pressure is also a factor, especially at Confirmation time when all sorts of smartphones are bought.”
Never in a million years
Speaking from personal experience, he recalls a time when he himself had a television in his own bedroom, and the impact it subsequently had on his life and says it has made him resolute in his beliefs.
“When I was in my early 20s, I had one in the bedroom and looking back it definitely deprived me of sleep and impacted on me. I would never in a million years allow it for my own kids.”