Think twice before allowing your preschooler to have a TV in their room

A TV in your young child’s bedroom could have long-lasting health consequences, according to recent research from the Université de Montréal. Too much time watching the tube alone in their room as a preschooler can lead to mental and physical health problems in adolescence, including being overweight, poor eating, and emotional struggles, according to a study published in Pediatric Research.

“Intuitively, parents know that how their children spend their leisure time will impact their well-being over the long term,” said study author Linda Pagani, a professor at UdeM’s School of Psycho-Education, in a release. “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 grown and development, especially if the TV is in a private place like the bedroom.”

With TV taking up their most intimate space, kids are at risk of not having enough interactions for proper development.

The process

Pagani wanted to find out whether or not there was a link between having a TV in the bedroom at age four, during the “neurodevelopmentally critical preschool period,” and the later “physical, mental, and social problems in early adolescence.”

Pagani and her team of researchers analyzed Canadian birth group 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 check their health at age 13, independent examiners measured the childrens’ body mass index; the 13-year-olds also reported the unhealthy foods they ate. To measure their psychological health, teachers rated the amount of emotional stress the adolescents dealt with. The adolescents also filled out the Children’s Depression Inventory. Teachers reported on how they got along with their peers and if they were bullied or not. Researchers find that all these factors are solid predictors of physical and mental health in adulthood.

The findings

The results were clear: having a TV in the bedroom at four years old made it more likely that the child would later have a higher body mass index, unhealthier eating habits, and be less social and under more emotional distress. Other symptoms inherited from having a bedroom TV as a four-year-old included depressive symptoms, as well as “victimization and physical aggression, regardless of individual and family factors.”

It seemed to be all about the TV. And now, Pagani warns, there are even more screens competing for childrens’ attention at younger and younger ages.

“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.”