For years, 13-year-old Sasha and 14-year-old Roman have brought their iPads to bed to watch Netflix or YouTube before falling asleep. It’s not uncommon for one or both siblings to wake up the next morning with a tablet under their arm, headphones still attached from ear to device like an electronic umbilical cord.
Roman told me he can’t sleep without the sound of a TV show. Sasha says she likes being able to text and follow Snapchat or Instagram posts while she’s watching videos. “Doesn’t that make it hard to sleep?” I asked. Sasha simply shrugged.
The idea of even attempting sleep without a device was a foreign concept, one she hadn’t considered.
Sasha and Roman aren’t alone. A 2018 Pew Research Center report indicates that almost 45 percent of American teens say they are online “near constantly”—and that number has almost doubled since Pew’s 2015 report.
When they aren’t texting or using social media, teens are playing video games on a phone, computer, or video game console. A full 97 percent of boys play video games.
What these numbers show is that teens have become accustomed to the ubiquitous presence of digital media, which they rely on for connection, engagement, and entertainment—even when they are supposed to be sleeping. New research suggests that constant connection, especially when devices are in the bedroom, can have more serious effects that we may have anticipated.
New Research on “Bedroom Media”
A recent article published in Developmental Psychology presents effects of what the researchers define as “bedroom media,” or televisions and video game consoles in kids’ bedrooms. The results of three longitudinal studies show that screen time in the bedroom has multiple short-term and long-term adverse effects.
By the time kids reach Sasha and Roman’s age, they’ve already become reliant on bedroom media and the effects of long-term usage may be difficult to reverse.
Based on the researchers’ findings, there are four reasons why parents should remove, or at least limit, bedroom media for kids starting at a young age and continuing into their teens.
1. Bedroom media results in poorer school performance.
Kids who have TVs or video game consoles in their room perform worse in school. Even when researchers controlled for other factors like socioeconomic status and prior grades, kids who used bedroom media performed worse than kids who didn’t. Decreased academic performance may occur because kids with access to bedroom media are less likely to read. It’s also likely that kids with devices don’t sleep well and go to sleep later.
2. Bedroom media increases the likelihood of video game addiction.
Because kids with video game consoles in their rooms play more video games, they are more likely to develop video game addiction. Kids who played video games in their bedrooms simply had more access to the technology and therefore more opportunity to develop addictive behaviors. Researchers did not measure for internet addiction, but results might prove to be similar since a primary risk factor for addiction is the opportunity to engage in the behavior.
3. Bedroom media increases the likelihood of aggressive behaviors.
The content of what kids watch in a bedroom can shape their normative views of how appropriate violence is. In other words, increased exposure leads to perception that aggression is normal and inevitable. Kids with access to bedroom media have fewer parental controls over what they watch or play and fewer opportunities to discuss what they see.
4. Bedroom media is correlated with increases in BMI, which can create long-term negative health effects.
Kids who have access to bedroom media engage in less physical activity throughout the day and evening. Watching TV and playing video games at night leads to more sedentary behaviors, which decreases metabolic rates and increases BMI.
While this study doesn’t look at the effects of phones or tablets in bedrooms, it does raise questions about whether or not the presence of any screen in a bedroom can have similar negative effects. As the researchers of this study note, future studies should examine the use of laptops, tablets, and phones.
Parents may be the most influential factor in modeling positive behavior for consuming media. Parents who spend significant time on devices may unwittingly encourage their kids to withdraw and spend more time alone and on devices—often in the bedroom. When I talked to Sasha and Roman about their use of bedroom media, they reported that everyone in the family is a heavy device user, especially at night. That includes Mom and Dad, who retreat to their bedroom in the evening to watch TV.
It’s Not Too Late to Break the Habit
Teens may be resistant to giving up their bedroom media, but talking about the long-term effects can help change their minds.
Sasha and Roman denied experiencing the negative outcomes that were presented in the research study, but Sasha, who is the far heavier digital user of the two, admitted having trouble getting her homework done and struggling to get up on time. She had never considered the connection to bedroom media.
You can begin making changes in your household by instituting a limited window of time for bedroom media use. Start slowly and work toward larger goals. For example, you could agree as a family to set bedroom media usage hours from, say, 7–10 p.m. and slowly decrease the time. You may discover that introducing other activities—such as reading in bed or even watching a TV show together in the family room—may curb the desire for bedroom media.
“What do you think?” I asked Sasha and Roman after presenting the case against bedroom media.
“It’s worth a try,” Roman said skeptically, referring to my ideas about limiting usage in the bedroom. He definitely didn’t indicate a resounding desire or commitment to change, but he is right that trying to limit bedroom media is worth a try. In light of the research, we’d be foolish not to.