Case in point: As an educator and a parent, I am opposed to placing a television in a child’s bedroom. With the quality of programming available on TV today, as well as the fierce competition that our children will face in a global economy, there is no time and no need for un-monitored television viewing in the bedroom.
I am not saying that children should not be watching television at all. Just that the placement of this device is a child’s bedroom amounts to an utter disregard for the realities that face our children today, and the research which clearly shows the damage that a TV in the bedroom can do.
In 2008, the New York Times reported that children with televisions in their bedrooms score lower on school tests and are more likely to have sleep problems. Having a television in the bedroom is also strongly associated with being overweight and a higher risk for smoking.
In addition, a television in the bedroom increases the total amount of TV that a child views in a given week by nearly 9 hours, from 21 hours to 30 hours.
All three of those numbers are staggering to me.
Every year I survey my students, asking how many of them have televisions in their bedrooms, and typically more than half do. After more than a decade of surveys and observation, I can offer anecdotal evidence that supports the data reported in the Times. Children without televisions in their bedrooms are consistently better readers and more focused learners.
Does this mean that removing the television from the bedroom will boost a student’s reading ability and overall learning profile.
Does this mean that I have never had a high achieving student who also had a television in his or her bedroom?
Of course not.
But I also wonder how much potential was lost because of the television. Could one of these students have been the next Einstein had they not been watching reruns on the Disney channel?
Maybe. Lost potential is difficult to measure and convenient to ignore.
With this in mind, I routinely advise parents to remove the television and gaming systems from their child’s bedroom. I once took action myself by going to a student’s house and removing the power cords from the three game systems he had in his bedroom and not returning them until the end of the school year.
But in the decade that I have been offering this advice, I can count the number of times that a parent removed a television from their child's bedroom on one hand.
There are lots of reasons why parents ignore the data and the advice of educators, but it typically amounts to this:
Removing a television from a child’s bedroom is hard. The child has gotten accustomed to the television and would be angry if it were removed. The family would not be able to watch two different shows at the same time. Parents and child would have to compromise on their viewing preferences, and that would cause additional problems.
I agree with this sentiment. I do not doubt its veracity. I know, because I once made the mistake of placing a television in a child’s bedroom.
When my former step-daughter was ten years old, I purchased a new television for the living room and I placed the old TV in Nicole’s bedroom, thinking it a nice gesture and a means of alleviating the constant debate over what we should be watching.
Less than a week later, I had realized that by placing a television in her bedroom, I was seeing considerably less of Nicole. She was spending more time in her bedroom, with the door closed, watching TV while doing her homework. I also realized that I was unable to monitor what she was watching and how much programming she was consuming in total.
These were all things that I should'ave realized beforehand but did not.
In short, it took me a little more than a week to realize how stupid it was to put a TV in her bedroom, but once I did, I removed it.
Nicole was inconsolable when I removed the television, and more than a decade later, she was still angry over the decision that I made that day. Even though she now has a television in her bedroom, she describes that day as one of the angriest moments of her life. For years after removing the TV, she would complain about the decision to me, her mother, family members, friends and even strangers who were willing to listen to her tale of woe. She would describe me as mean, cruel and uncaring. She would lament over the the fact that all of her friends had televisions in their bedrooms and ask why I did not love her enough to do the same.
All this within the complex, tenuous and oftentimes uncertain dynamics of a step-father/step-daughter relationship, and with almost no support from her mother, who disagreed with my decision.
Yet I did it, knowing it was best for Nicole. My hope was that she might someday thank me for caring enough to endure six years of constant badgering and complaints, but that moment of appreciation has never come.
As I said, she is still mad as hell about it.
But I made the difficult decision because I knew it was right, and because I know that the hardest decisions are usually the best decisions.
In that same New York Times article, Dr. Leonard H. Epstein, professor of pediatrics and social and preventive medicine at the School of Medicine and Biomedical Science at the State University of New York at Buffalo, is quoted as saying:
“Once the set is in the child’s room, it is very likely to stay. In our experience, it is often hard for parents to remove a television set from a child’s bedroom.”
Why is this true?
Because too many people are unwilling to make the difficult decision.
As parents, we are all capable of making stupid decisions. In the course of raising my children, I expect to do a lot of foolish and tremendously dumb things.
This is the cross that every parent must bear.
But it is our willingness to undo our stupidity and make the tough decisions that set us apart.
More importantly, it is what will ultimately set our kids apart as well.
So stop ignoring the data and take the advice of an experienced educator and parent capable of some very stupid things:
Get that goddamn television out of your kids’ bedroom today.