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Don't Put Your Old Television in Your Child's Room

By Yvette Vignando - 3rd October 2012

Research results were released this week from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health indicating that as many as 20%- 30% of five year olds in Australia have a television in their bedroom. I was surprised. Although the study was focused on obesity in younger children, it is the figure about televisions in bedrooms that really amazes me.  (The full stats on this are in the comments below.)

It makes sense that if children have a sedentary entertainment option in their bedroom that they’ll spend less time being active. But the lead researcher Dr Louise Hardy points out that “It’s not the TV that does it, it’s the snacking that accompanies watching TV.”

And although I’m concerned about the research results showing one in five children turn up to Kindergarten overweight or obese, I was drawn to the reporting of nearly a third of five year olds having television in their bedrooms. The sample size of this study was over 1200, and perhaps there was a particular bias in the socio-economic mix of the families involved, but if even a fifth of all five year olds were watching TV in their rooms, I think that’s a problem. An earlier study published in 2009 by University of New England researcher professor Michael Bittman noted that 13% of three and four-year-old children, and 20% of children aged seven and eight, watched television in their bedrooms so it seems this recent figure may be frighteningly close to accurate. ACMA research suggests 30% of teens have televisions in their bedrooms.

It’s difficult to comment on parenting topics without sounding preachy, but I’m going to risk it on this one.

There is a place for television in childhood, in my opinion. Some families survive happily without a television altogether and find this an equally good or even better option for their children. But I do think there is a lot wrong with giving your child potentially unsupervised access to television. If you were considering putting your old television in your child’s room, here are my 8 reasons for why you should instead donate it to charity:

1.    Negotiating with teenagers about internet and mobile telephone usage is exhausting enough – once your child is a teen, you will likely be defeated by having to restrict hours of TV watching and having to monitor program choice. Don’t do this to yourself.
2.    Life is busy. Once your child is installed quietly in front of the television in their room, out of sight, you will be amazed how many hours go by before you realise they’ve been there for half the morning and are now watching a terrifying news bulletin.
3.    Watching television together is an opportunity to sit with your child, and as they are older, talk to them about what they are watching.  Televisions in bedrooms reduce those opportunities.
4.    There is some evidence that watching television close to bedtime reduces the quality of sleep and may even interfere with falling off to sleep; use of backlit devices like electronic tablets interferes with sleep even more. It is much better for your child to get into the habit of reading before bed or playing quietly in their room before going off to sleep.
5.    It’s likely you’ll talk less with your younger or older child if they are watching television in their rooms.  Any talking is important; try not to reduce those opportunities.
6.    Research published by the U.S. Journal of Paediatrics indicates that if your child has a television in their bedroom they are likely to watch significantly more television than a child who watches in a communal family area.   Most parents would prefer to reduce, not increase their children’s hours of TV-watching.
7.    Even background television ‘noise’ has been shown to negatively impact  on children’s social and cognitive development, especially for pre-school children and toddlers - your child’s TV watching may be impacting on their younger siblings as they wander in and out of bedrooms
8.    The University of Sydney study is just one of many that have connected televisions in children’s bedrooms to negative health effects, including obesity in young children. It is healthier to keep that television in the family room.

Do yourself and your children a favour, donate your old television to charity.

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