Bedroom Culture and Media Use
Introduction By the time they are aged 15 or 16, the majority of young people in Europe spends at least half of their waking time at home in their bedrooms. Is a child's bedroom a site for the consumption and the display of consumer goods, or is it a private, social space where young people can express and experiment with their identity? What impact will media in the bedroom have on a teenager's identity and on relationships with peers and family? In this feature, Moira Bovill and Sonia Livingstone of the London School of Economics and Political Science consider how bedroom culture intersects with the media culture of children and young people.
In the second half of the twentieth century, growing affluence, changing patterns of family interaction, reduction in family size, the emergence of youth culture and the consumer power of the youth market have all combined to make children's bedrooms increasingly important as sites of leisure and learning. It is common nowadays for young people in Europe to have their own bedroom and for its furnishings to reflect their individual tastes and interests.
European children's bedrooms are, furthermore, increasingly well-equipped with media. Alongside the more traditional books and radios, many young people now have a television set, video recorder, TV-linked games machine or personal computer in their room. To many children across Europe and North America, this media-rich bedroom culture represents a vital yet taken-for-granted aspect of their daily lives, which significantly enriches the variety of leisure opportunities open to them. From a commercial viewpoint, these developments represent a new opportunity for targeted advertising and marketing, as the media-rich child's bedroom is both a site of reception for commercial messages and a location for the display and use of leisure goods. For parents, such developments have implications for family communication and media regulation. But how does bedroom culture intersect with children and young people's media culture in general?
Once again, the most striking finding is the difference between countries in the numbers of children and young people watching television or playing computer games alone, regardless of media in the bedroom. In Spain, having their own television makes little difference to children's behavior, and fewer than one in five at any age watch alone. In Germany, on the other hand, two in every five of those who have their own set watch their favorite program alone at the age of 9 or 10, and this figure rises to almost half at the age when television viewing is most popular, between 12 and 13.
Similarly, fewer Spanish than German children play
computer games alone. This would suggest that wider cultural factors
lead family life in Spain to remain largely communal, while in Germany
the individualization processes associated with late modernity are further
advanced and "living together separately" is becoming a more common
occurrence. Such findings suggest that, although having media in the
bedroom is likely to encourage young people to spend time alone with
media, demographic factors and social practices rooted in the culture
of the country are at least as important.
culture is seen by adults as a matter for interest or concern differs
markedly across countries. In the Nordic countries, although younger
children in particular spend a considerable proportion of their free
time at home in their bedrooms, researchers encountered few worries
about this amongst parents. This may be explained in terms of national
anti-authoritarian patterns of child-rearing in Nordic countries. In
the UK, adult attitudes toward bedroom culture are more ambivalent.
To parents, the media-rich bedroom represents both a refuge from the
dangers of the streets and, on the other hand, a threat to family relationships
and "constructive" leisure activities. In the UK, interviews with young
people themselves suggest that the time they spend indoors with media
may be related to a dearth of leisure alternatives. Our survey showed
that British children, compared with others in Europe, are the most
likely to say that there is not enough to do for someone their age in
the area where they live: 83 percent of British 15-16 year olds say
this, compared with only 53 percent of Dutch children of this age.
Television is still in most countries a family medium, and fewer than a quarter of young people usually watch their favorite program alone. However, the future trajectory for television would seem to be toward increasingly solitary use: children are more likely to watch alone if they have their own set and therefore the choice to do so. On the other hand, although almost twice as many already play computer games alone, there is no indication that this will increase if more children acquire their own computers or games machines: the tendency is, if anything, toward more social uses. In particular, it seems that computer-game playing is an important peer activity which encourages contact with friends.
While these general trends hold cross-culturally, it also appears that, as far as bedroom culture is concerned, different national cultures are likely to encourage rather different outcomes. It seems that certain cultures may be more tolerant of, or more predisposing toward, leisure time spent alone, and that this may have consequences for the development of bedroom culture, regardless of media provision. It remains to be seen in how far national differences in culture, in family life and in young people's access to public spaces and facilities will affect the future balance of outdoor versus indoor, social versus solitary, or family- versus peer-oriented leisure activities in young people's lives. What is clear is that the media--particularly screen media--are playing an increasingly significant role within the more solitary, more peer-oriented space of the bedroom.