TV junkies

Students with a TV in the bedroom score lower on standardized tests; those with a home computer score higher. OK, not a shock, but the differences are significant. Stanford and Johns Hopkins researchers found an 8 to 10 percent decline in scores for third graders with their own TV; computer users scored 7 to 9 percent higher.

Researchers speculate that parents who give their child computer access value educational achievement more than parents who provide a personal TV. But in the California study, 71 percent of children had their own TV.

A Seattle study found TV watching before the age of three correlates with lower test scores when children reach school age. However, older children learn from educational TV programs, the study concluded.

A New Zealand study, controlled for IQ, socioeconomic status and early childhood behavior problems, found heavy TV watchers were more likely to leave school without a diploma.

My guess is that kids who watch a lot of TV necessarily watch a lot of junk and have less time for active playing.

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  1. The study did NOT contrast students who have a TV in the bedroom with students who have a computer in the bedroom. It compared a bedroom TV with home computer ACCESS, that is, there was at least one computer in the home, and the kids were allowed some use of it.

  2. I think dumping a TV in your kid’s room is often a sign of lazy parenting–the TV serves as a babysitter, and a pretty poor one at that.

    I had a parent, on open school night, tell me the reason his son was failing was his habit of locking himself in the room and watching the TV.

    I told him to take the TV away.

    “Oh, I couldn’t do that,” he said. And the results were predictable. Parents who can’t say no to their kids, like teachers who can’t say no to their students, are doomed.

  3. You’re right, Julia K. I’ve fixed the post.

  4. Margaret says:

    DH & I decided early on that there was going to be exactly one television in our house, out in the family room. We actually did it more from the point of view of fostering family time together (not necessarily clustered ’round the idiot box, mind you) rather than everyone retreating back to “their own” room to watch “their own” show. It’s interesting that this also pays off academically…

  5. My son has a tv in his room at his mother’s house and a computer in his room at our house. I wonder how he’d be counted in this survey.

  6. This TV issue is so straightforward, no studies are needed. Here is why: if a kid is watching TV, he is not reading, not studying word roots, not playing a card or board game, really not doing much of anything. Physically and mentally, the kid is literally “watching the TV”.

    If she listened to music, he could still do math, read lightly, and so on. It depends a bit on the type of music and the activity. Make up your own examples. For me, I can listen to Kraftwerk, Haydn and mariachi music while I program. Your mileage will vary.

    In my opinion the central problem with TV and children is the loss of personal time. I believe the time loss is more serious than any physiological effects, or the low-vocabulary dumb content. Those are secondary. But the typical TV debate is typically about the content: and not the loss of time. The crummy content is another discussion.

  7. dhanson says:

    Last week my wife and I sat down to watch TV. I thought our 12-year-old daughter might like the program we planned to watch, so I called her to come in and watch with us. “No thanks,” she said. “I’m at an exciting place in my book.”
    “Put the book down for a while and come in and watch TV with us,” I said–and then my wife and I looked at each other and started laughing. We were nagging our child to watch TV. Generally she would rather read –or listen to music or play music or just go ride her bike. All this despite parents who try to lead her off the straight and narrow.
    I think variety is important and I don’t think a reasonable amount of well-chosen TV is harmful, but I am glad she’s got more sense than her parents.

  8. It would be interesting to compare the achievements of students with computers in their rooms to students with computer access but not in their own rooms. These days, students could waste a heck of a lot of time on the internet in ways that are definitely not predictive of later achievement. With cable modems, kids could also be like my brother-in-law, who multi-tasks by watching cable through his computer while surfing the internet – doesn’t need that TV to be addicted to TV.

    I don’t think I’d want my kid to have a computer in his room – at least not one with internet access – any more than I’d want him to have a TV. (Of course, all my kids at the moment are cats, so I’m a little more lax on the monitoring!) One of my friends found her 8 year old son had been looking for “boobies” dot com – one of his friends told him to do this. Fortunately, he wasn’t computer savy enough to erase the history of sites visited so it was pretty easy to figure out! I understand that both his school and church had recently had people speaking to the kids about safety on the internet — which can have the adverse consequence of making the kids mighty curious about all that bad stuff out there!

  9. It’s also possible there’s a third factor coming into play – that parents who don’t allow bedroom-televisions are generally more involved, or more concerned with their child’s school progress.

    There have been studies that have shown that watching television is about the most passive activity there is – so these findings do not surprise me. It also wouldn’t surprise me if they found that there was less parent-child conversation in those homes.

    Growing up, we had two tv’s – one in the family room and a small, black and white model in the kitchen (for watching the weather or the news in the morning). I do remember my parents being scandalized to learn that some of my friends (and my brothers’ friends) had tvs in their bedroom – they seemed to think it the height of bad parenting. My parents pretty much controlled what my brother and I watched, but I don’t remember them ever telling me to turn off the set and do something else. (But then again, I grew up in the era of 3-networks-plus-PBS, so most of the time there wasn’t anything that interesting on. Maybe that’s the solution – make tv boring again and kids won’t want to watch it ;^) – although to be honest I find most current tv pretty boring)

  10. @Ricky : “It’s also possible there’s a third factor coming into play – that parents who don’t allow bedroom-televisions are generally more involved, or more concerned with their child’s school progress.”
    In my opinion this is not really a third factor. It is the most important single factor to explain differences. Behind all kinds of other factors. The bedroom TV is one of its manifestations. So you can turn it upside down: thinking twice about giving your child a TV on his/her own room is in the advice you have to give to parents wondering how they can be more involved.
    We (as parents of two) have long been surprised how many (sometimes well-educated) people go along with this trend.
    Nice to see some hard figures on it.
    I don’t see any difference with the situation her in the Netherlands.