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Should a Child's Room be a Castle?

When my children were first born, I did something radical. I didn't really decorate their room.

Part of it was a money issue; we had so little cash, and we were trying to save for a downpayment for a house. I thought putting our money into an apartment sized washing machine would be a far better use of our funds than buying cute little Noah's Ark wall hangings.

But part of it was also a conscious choice. I figured they were babies; what did it matter what their rooms looked like, as long as they had a comfortable place to sleep with an interesting mobile above the crib to look at? So we bought a sturdy crib, a practical change table, and a rocking chair where I could feed them. Everything else was kind of boring. In fact, until my oldest was four we actually stored our Christmas decorations in their room, in a pile in the corner.

Here's the clincher: I knew that throughout the day, they would be spending most of their time in the family room, not in their bedrooms. They would need to be where I was; so why put all kinds of money and time into a room that they really only used for sleeping? I wanted to keep the living room in our small house as fun for them as possible, so I often sacrificed some of the comfort in their bedrooms--where they rarely were--for the family space we all shared.

I think modern parents pay far too much attention to children's rooms. We want to create a fairytale for them, but honestly, how important is that? I have seen 3-year-olds with televisions in their rooms. I have seen six-year-olds with video games and computers in their rooms. And it's a big mistake.

When children hit the teenage years, they will need some privacy. Giving them a nice, bright, comfortable room where they can do homework, read, and practice an instrument or something is good.




When they're 8, they don't need that. What they do need is an incentive to be with the family. We spend far too much time in North America cocooning in our own individual places than we do hanging out, all together, in common space.

I respect the urge to try to create a comfortable home for your child; I really do. It is admirable to want to provide for your child and to nurture your child.

What I don't agree with, though, is how our society comes to define "providing for" and "nurturing". We think that this means that our kids should have access to all the latest gear. Really, I think nurturing our children means giving kids access to each other and to us. They need family far more than they need a television.

What happens when kids have a television in their bedroom? They sleep less. They gain weight. They score lower on reading and math tests. And perhaps most importantly, they're more likely to start smoking and get involved in other delinquent activities, even controlling for all other factors.

While the health and educational factors are important, it's that last one I want to talk about. When kids have televisions and computers in their room, they are more likely to make lifestyle and moral choices that you would not approve of. Why would you want your kids doing that?

And the reason they do that is because their lives have now become more and more separate from you. Kids with TVs in their rooms live in their rooms, not in the kitchen or the family room, where they can hang out with you. And perhaps just as importantly, they tend to live solitary lives, not lives with their siblings. If you've ever wondered why our kids squabble so much, perhaps it's because they aren't forced to play together or cure boredom together. Instead, they just retreat to their rooms to be entertained on their own.

I really can't think of anything much more destructive in a family than encouraging your child to coccoon, all without you. Kids need input from us. They need conversation. They need meal times. They need to have fun! But we're letting them grow up by themselves, in their wonderfully decorated room with every little gadget. It's wrong.

This year my family started enforcing family games night. We've had it theoretically for years, but somehow other things often intruded: meetings or dinner engagements or kids' activities. Not so now. It's every Tuesday night. I've stopped accepting speaking engagements on Tuesdays (except this one, because I'm away for a whole week! But my family is playing without me!). The kids don't work or get together with friends on that night. And that night we have a great dinner, and then pull out the board games and laugh and laugh altogether.

Let's provide for our kids. Let's give them a great living environment. But that environment should not be in their own rooms, where they're encouraged to spend time far away from the rest of the family. It should be altogether.

I find that my girls need to talk about the stuff of life, but that conversation usually only comes after we've been together for a while. They need to be comfortable opening up. After we've been goofing around or chatting or cooking together for a little bit, suddenly out will come this torrent of feelings about friends, or youth group, or their futures, or whatever. But it only comes after that initial bonding time.

If your lives consist mostly of gathering the children for the practical functions of life, like putting food on their plates or collecting homework or ascertaining everybody's schedules, and then you separate during your leisure times, I doubt that kind of opening up will happen. If your children hang out in their own rooms, rather than in the family room with siblings, I doubt great friendships will develop.

So here's an idea: think about how you want your kids to turn out. What values do you want them to have? How do you want them to act? Now, does your physical home reflect those values, or are you undermining them? If your kids coccoon, you're undermining them. And maybe it's time for a readjustment.

What do you think? Does your family have a central place where you hang out? Where is it?

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23 Comments:

At 7:48 AM , Blogger Jennifer Sikora said…

My kids have never had an elaborate space. Even if I had the money I would not have decorated like that. My kids are just now getting ready to get their own rooms. They are 15 and 12. They have shared a space since my daughter was born. This has allowed them both to grow a bond of closeness because they have had to share a room and toys for many years.

Your family sounds a lot like mine!

 

At 7:54 AM , Blogger sewinggeek said…

You are right on with this one!
Kids need you not your cash.
We (my hubby and I) believe that our kids need to learn to be an adult. This starts when they are born. They need to be nurtured and taught. This is not done with all the latest stuff. It is teaching them through play what parents would like to see when their child grows up. I am not puting this very well. But my kids are not perfect and they are leading pretty independant lives at 23, 20 and 17 but they know that they can still come to us and we will be here - to listen, to support and care. This does not mean throwing cash at them, it means helping them to solve the problem. We have a very comfortable life. But our kids still have to work to get what they want. They still have to do chores. They still have learn to budget. We made a decision long ago that until they were in post secondary school they don't have a computer. No tv in their bedrooms. Home computer in a public area. Summer jobs with a percentage going into a fund for post secondary education.
People have told us we have great kids. Sometimes I wonder when there are clashes at home but I think the best thing we spent on our kids was our time.

 

At 7:58 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Jennifer and Sewing Geek, thanks for the encouragement! Glad you see it the way I do! It's amazing how many parents don't, though, isn't it? I have often found that it's the most dysfunctional homes where the kids have the greatest rooms. But the parents seem not to see the correlation.

 

At 8:28 AM , Blogger A'ine said…

My kids' rooms are decorated (our youngest's room will be getting a new paint job...long overdue) nicely and they have toys & books in them. Our daughter's room we've tried to make a bit of a sanctuary for her. She's on the autistic spectrum, and she needs a space to call her own, get away fromm all the hubbub and be by herself. So we got her a desk so she could focus on homework and doing crafts, colouring, etc. She has a radio & CD player because she's very musical and loves to listen to and sing with music...and listening to classical music when she does her homework helps her to focus as well. Beyond that, that's about all the gadgets she will get. DH and I are not for putting TVs, phones, and computers in their rooms, for all the reasons listed above. Not only do we need the time as families, but it's a good way to keep tabs on what the kids are doing if the computer & TV aren't in a remote area. It also helps that DH is an engineer and works in IT security...so he can out-fox them when it gets to the time where they may be trying to do stuff online that's not on the up & up (or doing things we don't want them doing online).
My job isn't to provide my children with every new gadget going...my job is to get them safely to adulthood, able to function and contribute in a meaningful way to society. Ensconcing them in their rooms with everything they want (not need) doesn't do that, imho. Good article, Sheila!

 

At 10:07 AM , Blogger Burkulater said…

My 6 YO daughter and 4YO son are sharing a room currently. Our other available room was the nursery. Our 2YO daughter sleeps there. Already, our 6YO sees that all of her friends have their own rooms, most of which have a princess canopy bed or cool loft bed with a desk underneath. Naturally, our little girl wants her own room with something as cool as her friends. Keeping up with the Joneses starts early. I remember having some of the same feelings as I used to share a room, too. Sometimes, when I feel a little bit guilty, reading something like your post helps me recenter and realize that she's better off having a close relationship with us and her siblings right now. Thanks! When I saw the title, I just had to stop by!

 

At 10:24 AM , Blogger Michelle said…

Love this post! My children do have decorated rooms, but this is more for Mom than for them LOL...I love to decorate, and I love "pretty" things...my parents gave me money for decorating as baby presents. But they do NOT have and never will have a TV or computer in their rooms...and I'm seriously considering how I will be handling cell phones if I decided to let them have one. They are still so young, it will be serveral years before we have to make that decision.

 

At 10:42 AM , Blogger Megan said…

My husband and I recently came to the same conclusion. I've never desired to spend extravagantly in our children's rooms, but I did plan on building some pretty book/toy shelves and put some cute storage cubes in their rooms. Since my 3-year-old started struggling with falling asleep at naptime, I took EVERYTHING out except for her bed and a reading chair. Even the books. Even the bed FRAME. Which made me think more deliberately about what a bedroom should be for...and what shouldn't be in there in the first place. As soon as our younger child is sleeping steadily through the night, I'll probably move him into the same room as his sister and JUST have beds in there with some pretty/cute things up on the wall.

 

At 11:33 AM , Anonymous Rebecka said…

Not only do I not over decorate my children's rooms, they have the *gasp* horror of having to share their room with not just one, but two siblings!! We have six children, three girls and three boys, in a 3 bedroom house. We see bedrooms as a place to sleep, change clothes and sometimes read quietly. Otherwise, we live in the main part of our house, all together as a family. And even if we had the money for a bigger house, it wouldn't be more bedroom that we'd buy, it'd be more living space and land.
Oh, we also all share one tv, one computer and one bathroom. My children are learning to work together from the beginning.

 

At 11:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I think you are talking about two different things. I have my girls' rooms both decorated nicely...not elaborately, but a coat of paint and a cute bedding set can go a long way. On the flip side, we have one tv in our house and that is all we are ever going to have. I would never be okay with a tv or computer in a bedroom, because as you said, it can lead to them spending too much time away from the rest of the family.

Nurse Bee

 

At 2:03 PM , Blogger trish adams said…

Very good post. Thank you! Learning a lot by reading about your parenting style!!

 

At 3:41 PM , Blogger Tessa said…

I can relate to much of what has been said already. We have several potential "Bedrooms" in our house that are currently used as a master bedroom, son's bedroom, diaper room, playroom and office. I would LOVE to open up the wall between the playroom and office so that it's all one big space but we're renting so that's not an option lol.
Our son's room has a double bed so he can share with a sibling or two (when they come along) and he's got clothes dressers. Bedrooms are for sleeping.
I remember as a teenager my sister and I would play together in one of our rooms while my brother holed himself up in his bedroom (on the computer, no internet access but lots of games). I think that toys/tvs in the room are a big distraction to sleeping. It was informative to learn about all the other downfalls of that as well. As for TV.... we don't watch it enough to justify buying a second one. Though it would be nice not to have it in our main living room, but that's just not an option in this house.

 

At 4:44 PM , Anonymous Christina said…

While I'm sure it is not your intention, your make it sound like any parent who decks out their child's room is by default irresponsible and would prefer the electronics to babysit for them.

Setting time aside for our families to bond is definitely one of the most important things they need from us. Instilling that people are what matter and not things is an idea that can be enforced whether or not a child has a room of their own--with or without a tv.

Regardless of whether or not those bedrooms have electronics, parents should be enforcing family time and responsibilities like chores or after school/summer jobs.

I remember having a tv in my bedroom as young as six years old, but by no means was I allowed to just sit in there all day. My room was a sanctuary for me, a place to catch some quiet time and reflection. It was the best place for me to concentrate on homework, to enjoy phone time or sleepovers with friends, or to put that tv to occasional use. It was not a place for me to close myself off, and would often have my siblings or parents spend time in my room with me.

I also grew up with boundaries and rules, and grew up in a house where my parents were not to be walked on or disobeyed, and I very much appreciate how I was raised. I grew up spending quite a lot of time with my family, both inside and outside of the house, and have always had solid relationships with my parents and four siblings.

Now I am an adult with a child of my own and a second on the way. I have no plans to allow my son to sit in front of a tv for copious amounts of time, whether that tv ends up in the living room or his bedroom is besides the point. My husband and I do think about the amount of technology we will allow at our the disposal of our children as they grow older. Thankfully, parents are fully able to moderate the amount of time children spend on computers and tv, and we're also able to screen content before our children reach it themselves.

You are right that our children need supervision and more time with family instead of electronics. And that often times we as parents can place priority on the wrong things, even when we have the best of intentions. Still, that is not to say that children with elaborate rooms (with or without electronics) will automatically become recluses with a false sense of entitlement.

 

At 12:30 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I don't know how to start. There are some good points but as I read on there seems to be judgement placed on people that decorate their kids rooms, have TV's in their rooms, computer, electronics and such. I grew up with over 56 adresses. Most of them I didn't have my own room or even have a room. My "bed" was the livingroom couch. I have an 18, 14 and 12 year old. My daughter is getting ready for dental school. She also spent a summer in Mexico at the age of 14 building a home for a family. My children spend hours every summer volunteer at several non-for-profit organizations. All 3 of my children spend time in their rooms that they helped me paint, choose the decor and have TV's, video game systems. For those that are reading this with children that have things don't feel like a failure. It takes balance and great parents. My boys played over 160 games of baseball this summer. I wonder how they did that with all of this stuff and decorated rooms. Their rooms were decorated to represent them and their identities. I love that my children have the social lives and also have a place that they can fall back into when they just want to get away and they feel safe. My 6th grader just finished a power point presentation on the that computer in his room. The same kid that enjoys watching his nature channel day. Not all kids and parents with overdone rooms are bad! Just saying. Oh yeah, my house is filled with my children as well as at least 3-5 other children every weekend. Those children who comment that my house if fun and i am a good cook. They also talk to me. It's not the things that make or break us.

Just saying. Don't judge cause I have a pretty room.

 

At 7:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

When my husband and I got engaged, we agreed on several things. One was no TV outside of our living room.
Fast forward 9 years , and we have 2 TV in our home...One is in our living room, so everyone can see, and the other is in my 89 yr old grandmother's room, which is off limits to our 4 children. Even though our oldest has a friend who has her own TV, computer, we have explained that that is not happening here. Our 4 children (ages 9- 3 years) are currently all in one room, with a set of bunkbeds. My daughter would love to have her own room, but there is no $$ for that at this time. We do this out of love for my grandmother who fell last Nov. and has lived with us since December7. Our living room also has our computer, our TV, and our exercise machines. Nana's room has satellite and her tv, which she pays for...and no, we do not have satellite or cable. Just regular over the air stations. And we are much happier without all that stuff--which seems to have helped with the "I want-itis", too..

 

At 8:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

We have a three bedroom house with seven children. Six girls and one boy. We have three girls in one room and three girls in another. Our boy is autistic and has his own room. The only T.V. we have is in our family room with the computer. Everyone has to share. It isn't easy but you learn to respect each others space.

 

At 8:31 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Hi all!

Thanks for all the comments! I've been on the road speaking and haven't been able to get back to this post until now.

Many of you chimed in saying that decorating kids' rooms isn't a bad thing. I agree. My teen girls' rooms are very decorated (though much of it they did themselves). We did buy them great bedding, and their rooms are very comfortable. I just didn't do it when they were babies.

What I said, and I guess I didn't say it clearly enough, is that in most families money is tight. If you're going to spend money somehwere, spend it to make the family room as fun as possible, or the other common areas, where you want the family to hang out. Those should be the priorities, and the bedrooms come later.

As for TVs in rooms, no, they, in and of themselves, won't ruin your kids. But they are also not neutral. I understand the moms saying that their kids have TVs and computers and their fine, and perhaps they are. It's just that statistically these children do not fare as well on so many levels. If, in your family, it works, that's great. But I still leave my caution out there: be careful. Sometimes we can think things are working when they really aren't. Often you don't see the signs until later. And if there's one thing all pediatricians would agree on (and probably the number one recommendation they would make to families), it would be: get the TV out of the child's room. Speaking as the wife of a pediatrician, I can tell you they're pretty passionate about that after what they've seen. This is one of the #1 issues that is constantly discussed in the pediatric literature.

Nevertheless, every family is different, and if yours is working, that's fine. I don't mean to judge. I only mean to bring to your attention some research which shows that it can be very bad indeed. It's up to you to decide whether that research is relevant for your own individual family!

 

At 9:26 AM , Blogger Megan said…

I want to chime in once more and say: It is NOT judgmental to point out the results of scientific research. It kind of makes me crazy when people take the conclusions of such studies as if they were personally being attacked. I think I know what my blog post will be about today...

 

At 3:05 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Megan--

Thanks for the support! Post the link once you've got your blog post written and I'll send people to it! Or maybe write about it, too!

 

At 4:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

What kinds of things would you suggest for a family room in lieu of decorating a baby/toddler's room?

Nurse Bee

 

At 10:24 PM , Blogger Megan said…

The laundry is done, dishes put away, children asleep, tomorrow's plan written down...and, the post I mentioned above is written and up!

http://asanctuarysought.blogspot.com/2010/11/knowledge-isnt-judgemental.html

Time to sleep.

 

At 11:38 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

Interesting post, Sheila!

I hadn't organized my thoughts about it as well as you, but you're saying what has been in my heart. We do our living together, and bedrooms are for sleeping. (Well, okay, parents get some extra-curricular bedroom activities...)

In fact, we decided that although we technically have a five-bedroom house, our three boys all share the largest bedroom. (The other four are our bedroom, as well as one we use as a family room, one as a school room, and one as an office.)

We think it's more important for them to have to have the give and take of sharing a room, than to have their own "isolation chambers".

We've never had a TV in any of the bedrooms (don't have one at all, right now), and the computers are in "public" space.

And we're working on the game night... :D

Julie

 

At 11:38 PM , Anonymous Amy said…

THANK YOU! My hubby and I were just discussing this same topic earlier this week.

 

At 10:17 PM , Anonymous Kimber said…

I couldn't agree more Sheila!
I had two bedrooms for five children, and they didn't have a computer in their room until they needed it for homework. Then, I could monitor the use from my server in my own office, and the internet was only attached by cable on request.
Even then, misuse was caught and led to loss of privilege.
No TV in the bedroom, period.

While not judging, I can state from experience that some of my children's not so wonderful friends were used as example for why mine should have all these gadgets in the bedroom.
It was a constant struggle for our family.

The good news is, we didn't give up. They left our home without the saddle of obesity, and were very capable individuals. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, and generally how to be a responsible adult. It was hard work.

Sad to say, that the influence of lax family members lured them away from our home much too young in our opinion.

The world is set up to undermine us while making excuses why children can't help in the kitchen instead of being babysat by a TV or video game.

 
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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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