Ask Dr Justin — Screens in Bedrooms?

By: Dr Justin Coulson

Hi Dr Justin

My partner and I are arguing about whether screens cause problem behaviour in kids or not. I say they do but he says they don’t. Our 9 year-old wants a TV in his room to play video games on. I’m saying no. Am I right? My partner thinks it’s fine and will keep him out of our hair. Am I being too “precious” which is what my partner is saying?

The short answer is… “You’re right. He’s wrong.”

Let me explain why your partner needs to back down and listen to you.

When it comes to technology, having screens in bedrooms is one of the most well-established risk factors for our children’s positive development. This is for two central reasons:

1. When a screen is in the bedroom, the simple fact is that parents have no idea what their kids are watching. (This is called the “content” hypothesis.)

2. Parents have no idea how much they’re watching. (This is called the “displacement” hypothesis because screens displace more important activities.)

Do you know what they’re watching?

In relation to content, a recent study published in the prestigious Developmental Psychology journal highlighted that children with bedroom media are likely to be exposed to more media violence than those without screens in their room. This led to kids’ feeling that violence and aggression are ok, and they behaved more aggressively than their peers.

Other research shows that kids become more hostile in relationships because of screen media, and they see other content that is harmful to their wellbeing, including pornography.

The reality is that they’ll see concerning content whether they have a screen in their room or not. But one thing is for sure… they’re definitely going to watch more screens and increase their risks when they have them in their room. Evidence from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children highlights that as soon as kids have screens in their room, they stare at them longer. The latest research shows that about 25% of Aussie children aged 6-11 years had a TV in their bedroom in 2015. At age 12-13 years, the number of kids who could watch TV in the bedroom rose to around 50%, including laptop or other screen access. Data from around the world shows that the percentages only increase as children get older.

Are they streaming or dreaming?

It’s not just about what they watch that affects their development. It’s what screens replace that matters too! During the day, they miss out on relationships, exercise, extra-curricular activities, and down time. At night, tather than dreaming, kids are streaming – or gaming – and it impacts their wellbeing in significant ways.

Australian data indicates screen time is affecting obesity, physical activity, and other social outcomes. If kids are too tired, they don’t relate well to others. And there is strong evidence that screens are impacting children’s behaviour, and their academic results. Plus, research shows that kids go to bed later, sleep less, and experience lower quality sleep when a screen is in their room.

Dealing with opposition

Now that we’ve got the evidence out of the way, it’s important that you don’t wave this article in your partner’s face and say, “Told you so. Ner ner ner ner ner.” We need to have more mature ways of communicating about these things.

I’d suggest the following:

First, ask him why it’s such a big deal to him that your son has a TV in his room. Be polite and genuinely try to understand. Perhaps he has some strong reasons. Or maybe he was allowed one as a child and thinks it didn’t affect him negatively. Listen and understand.

Second, ask him what outcomes you both want for your son and discuss how a TV may or may not help to achieve those outcomes.

Third, describe your concerns to him. Ask if he can listen without judgement so that he can really get what you’re saying.

Finally, focus on “where to from here”, so that you can problem-solve together. It’s important that you are united before you start conversations with your son about this. Don’t bully one another though. Remember the couplet:

One convinced against their will
Is of the same opinion still.

Whether it’s messing with their brain, impacting their relationships, affecting their physical health, or leading to depression, there are no strong reasons to put a screen into your child’s bedroom.

And keep this in mind: it’s much easier to never allow media in the bedroom than to allow it and then try to take it back out. The answer comes down to one simple word – just two letters – that can be tough to say. But that little word can save a LOT of pain down the track.

Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.

About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.

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