TV & Academics: Q&A With Dr. Mary, School Psychologist

Mary Rosen


Flickr photo by Alan_D

The school years are more complex than ever. If it's not the curriculum, it's the relationships. Dr. Mary Rosen is here to provide answers to your most pressing school issues. She's a school psychologist, licensed counselor, graduate school instructor, and parent.

Today, Dr. Mary is addressing the topic of television and school performance.

Q: My fifth-grade son has been begging for a TV in his bedroom for several years and claims that all his friends have TVs in their rooms. I'm still not sure about this. Could this be harmful to his schoolwork or something?

A: There have been many studies done on the effects of television on kids. In my experience, this is one of those issues that parents tend to feel strongly about either way.

Recent data show that kids ages 6 to 11 spend, on average, about 22 hours a week watching television. When other screen media (like DVRs and game consoles) are included, this number jumps to around 28 hours per week. The number is even higher for kids ages 2 to 5 (more than 32 hours per week!), probably because most are at home more than they're at school. In addition, more than half of 8- to 18-year-olds (68%) have a television in their bedroom. So, clearly, children are spending a good deal of their home time staring into small glowing screens.

Let's start with some "state the obvious" regarding kids and academics: If children are watching that much television, regardless of where it's located, it's likely that they're spending less time doing activities that we know are associated with good school performance, such as reading, interacting with family members, or engaging in hobbies ... unless there's more than 24 hours in their day or they never sleep.

Actually, let's talk a bit about the connection between watching television and sleep. We know how important sleep is for all children and that they do better on academic tasks when they're well rested. Children who have bedroom TVs may be particularly at-risk of developing poor sleep habits. For example, a survey of middle school kids found that those who have TVs in their bedrooms tended to get less sleep than those who didn't. The next question to consider then: Is this having a negative influence on their school performance?

Well, one study did find a connection between academics and having a bedroom TV. Those kids, all third-graders, who had TVs in their room (70% surveyed) scored much lower on school tests of reading, math, and language arts compared to those who didn't have TVs. One caveat: The type of shows and the content of the shows watched by kids weren't studied. So we don't know if they were watching cartoons, HBO, or infomercials. It's a safe bet that they weren't tuning in to C-SPAN.

Many other studies have looked at the impact of watching violent and/or frightening programming. We know that kids who consistently watch violence on TV tend to be more aggressive, but they may also become upset, anxious, or withdrawn ... all behaviors that have the potential to interfere with learning and school performance.

In my humble opinion: Say no to the bedroom TV, or lock it to the School Channel.

Got a question about school learning or behaviors for Dr. Mary? Leave it in the comments below or email us, and Dr. Mary may answer your question in a future post.

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