January 7, 2013

Television in the Bedroom

Nan Nuessle, MD, FAAP

Do your children have a TV in their bedroom? Many children do. In fact, 30% of children under the age of 3 have a television in their bedroom, and the percentage rises with age. By the time they are teens, many kids have a television with a cable or satellite box, a computer, and a mobile phone charger in their bedroom.  A 2008 study showed that when a child has a television in his bedroom, he is at a higher risk of poor school performance, sleep disturbances, obesity and smoking.  New studies have shown that devices such as computers, DVD players, game consoles and mobile phones have similar effects. The good news is that the above study showed that the health problems and poor school performance improved if the electronic devices were removed from the child’s bedroom.
When a television is in a child's bedroom, his television viewing increases dramatically. Some studies show a seven-hour increase, from 21 hours to 30 hours of TV a week. Parents may or may not know the content that their children are viewing. Furthermore, each hour viewing TV is an hour spent not exercising, not conversing with family members and, frequently, not attending to homework. An hour not exercising is felt to contribute to obesity. An hour not conversing with family members can stunt a child's social development. An hour watching TV instead of studying, or while studying, can interfere with academic success. Additionally, once a television is in a child's bedroom, parents find it difficult to remove it.
Here are some interesting statistics. By 5th grade, half of all children have a TV, DVD player or game console in their bedroom. Over 20%, have a computer in their bedroom and over 15% have a mobile phone. What does all of this do to their sleep? 57% of these children admit to using electronics after bedtime, with over 25% engaging in 3 or more such activities after they were supposed to be asleep. Just this lack of sleep alone can contribute to academic failure and to obesity. Even when an electronic device isn’t being used at night it can still cause sleep disturbances. Electronic devices emit a blue light. This blue light is particularly important in sleep disturbances.  Blue light affects melatonin, a chemical in our brains that tells us to sleep. Thus making it more difficult to fall asleep. Some investigators claim that even if you do fall asleep having a blue light source in the bedroom while you are sleeping will decrease the quality of that sleep.
What should we do with this information? First, realize that you are not alone. Next, remove televisions, DVD players, computers and game consoles, and smart phones from all bedrooms. Your children and teens may resist this, but stand firm.  Allow them to use these devices in a family setting where the content can be supervised. Then, consider setting up a central charging area in your home for laptops, tablets, readers and mobile phones. Finally, now that your children are watching less television, playing fewer video games and spending less time on their mobile phones, get active and do fun things together as a family.
Points to remember:
1. TV and other electronic devices in the bedroom are associated with many medical problems and with poor school performance.
2. Blue light emitted from these devices can affect sleep quality.
3. Removing these devices from the bedroom can help correct these medical problems and improve school performance.