Study: Preschoolers with TV in bedroom more likely to have weight problems, poor social skills

Researchers say 4-year-olds who have a television in their rooms were at a greater risk of suffering from depression, displaying aggressive behavior, and having poorer physical health in adolescence.

MONTREAL — Young children, specifically around the ages of four or five, can be a handful to say the least. Preschool aged children are full of energy and curiosity, which often leads to bewildered parents placing their kids in front of the TV so they can take a much needed break. It may be tempting for parents to install a TV in their children’s bedrooms as well, but a new study finds that too much time in front of a bedroom TV can lead to a multitude of problems later on in a child’s life.

According to researchers from the University of Montreal, a TV in the bedroom of a preschool aged child can discourage other, more productive developmental activities. Children at this age should be making important physical and social explorations and developments, but if they are cooped up in their bedroom all day and night watching TV, it can seriously hamper their mental and physical growth. This can consequently lead to poor diet, weight problems, and social issues later on in adolescence.

“Intuitively, parents know that how their children spend their leisure time will impact their well-being over the long term,” explains study author Linda Pagani 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 growth and development, especially if the TV is in a private place like the bedroom.”

Pagani and her team analyzed data on 1,859 Quebec-area children born between 1997-1998. Children who had a TV in their bedroom at the age of four were focused on, in order to determine if they dealt with mental, physical, or social problems later on in life. Once the study participants reached the age of 13, their BMI were measured, and each teenager self-reported on their dietary habits. In order to asses their psychological states, teachers were consulted and asked to rate how much emotional stress each teenager exhibited on a normal basis. Teachers were also asked about how well each participant got along with peers and classmates.

According to the researchers findings, having a TV in the bedroom at the age of four makes children much more likely to deal with unhealthy eating habits, a high BMI, social problems with peers, higher than average levels of emotional distress, depression, victimization tendencies, and physical aggression later on in adolescence. The study’s authors say they accounted for and eliminated any individual or family factors that may have skewed their results.

“The location of the TV seems to matter,” Pagani says. “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.”

The study is published in the scientific journal Pediatric Research.