The Ready Room : TVs, VCRs, phones, computers, video games, even fax machines. Kids’ rooms have become miniature multiplexes--why would they ever want to leave?


Weekdays, 16-year-old Chris Parnell comes home from school, tosses his keys on the table, goes upstairs to his room and stays there until he’s called for dinner. After refueling, he returns to his room and often doesn’t emerge again until the next morning.

“We encourage him to go out,” said his mother, Claudette, “but he’s so happy in his room. There’s so much to do.”

Totally. Within the four walls of his bedroom in a high-tech home in an affluent corner of Los Angeles, Chris has a 25-inch swivel TV, a VCR, a state-of-the-art computer and color printer, a stereo CD player, a synthesizer, speakers under and on his desk and in the ceiling, and two telephones.


His friends don’t call on the portable, he said, because “it would conflict with the fax machine.”

Kids’ rooms have always been used for play and sanctuary, but only recently have they turned into miniplex entertainment centers.

With thousands of dollars worth of equipment in his room, Chris may be on the frontier in terms of quantity and quality, but others are not far behind. According to a 1995 survey by Teenage Research Unlimited of Northbrook, Ill., 71% of 12- to 19-year-olds said they owned their own stereo, 65% had their own television, 65% had their own phone and 35% had their own computer.

(Other surveys have produced lower figures but confirm the basic trend.)

Researchers said kids are getting wired earlier than before. “Clearly, where at one time we saw 13 and 14 as the low age group for computers, home audio systems, TVs and VCRs, now it’s down to 8, 9 and 10,” said Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group, a Charleston, S.C., market trend researching company.

Eight-year-old JD Ciasulli of Manhattan Beach said he has a computer and a telephone in his room, but he wants a TV and a VCR. If he had a TV, he said, “I could lay in bed and watch TV. My brother doesn’t let me lay in bed in his room with the TV.” His brother Rocky, 10, said it’s important for kids to have their own TVs because “We like to watch it without people bothering us and stuff.”

The trend leaves social critics with many unanswered questions. Why have parents loaded their children’s rooms? Are they too exhausted to negotiate the sharing of equipment? Do they care? How will the unsupervised entertainment and isolation affect children in the long run? Is it the last straw in America’s flight from family and community involvement?


Dr. Alvin Poussaint, a psychiatrist and director of the media center at Harvard University’s Judge Baker Children’s Center, believes most parents have given kids their own equipment to diminish quarrels about what channel to watch or who’s going to use the phone or computer. “It’s a way of sending kids off to their room and using TV as a baby sitter and getting them out of their hair, frankly,” he said.

But some parents also want their children to have the same material goods as the neighbors’ children. Some contend having the equipment offers pride, freedom and responsibility, similar to having a car. Others hope they are providing their children with a competitive educational edge.

“In some ways, I feel it gives them what they’re not getting in the educational system,” said Lynn Calkins of Westchester, whose son Carl, 16, has a TV, video game player, phone, stereo and computer in his room.

Moreover, some parents said they are at least assured their kids are physically safe when they hear the drones, clicks and kapows! emanating from behind their closed doors. Said Claudette Parnell: “I like knowing he’s here--especially in L.A. I’m glad he enjoys it here in his room, doing something constructive.”

Others wonder. “Now, all sorts of guests are being invited into a child’s bedroom, some of whom may be sanctioned by parents, and others of whom probably are not,” said Barbara Wilson, a communications professor at UC Santa Barbara.

Poussaint noted that the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Pediatric Assn. have issued warnings on children’s exposure to the media. “It’s clear that the people who feel responsible for the well-being of children are very concerned about the long-range effects, even if it’s limited to physical health and fitness,” Poussaint said. “If they don’t go outside and play, they’re going to get fat.”


Of course, children and parents don’t just happen upon entertainment technology. Kids, who represent a huge and growing market, are bombarded not only with video games and software programs but are also directly targeted with advertising through television and their personal computers. Advertisers “want to build good consumers,” said children’s advocate Wendy Lazarus, co-founder of the Children’s Partnership in Los Angeles. “They’re aware of studies that kids as young as age 2 begin to recognize names and brand names.”

She estimated that advertisers spend $800 million annually targeting children through television; video games sales are projected to exceed $14 billion by 1998. Children are further enticed to have their own equipment through peripheral products such as kiddie screen savers and teen furniture that accommodates electronics.


Other critics fear that isolating children for long periods of time in their rooms will continue to shred already fraying ties with family members and with the community.

“I view this as something that is quite threatening to the idea of communal life and community itself,” said New York University’s communication and education theorist Neil Postman, author of “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (Elizabeth Sifton/Viking, 1985).

The past 50 years have seen a trend toward privatizing all experience and bringing it into the home, he said. “The idea, people say, is to be able to vote at home, bank at home, do all of that at home. The unspoken sentence is: ‘And therefore never have to see anyone in our community or talk to them.’ ”

Some family members get so wrapped up in their private entertainment that even when they’re all home together, they’re still alone.


During the recent blizzard on the East Coast, Postman said a friend complained about shoveling the snow in front of his house. “I said, ‘Why don’t you get your son out there?’ He said, ‘Well, he’s in his room with the computer. He closed the door. I don’t know what he’s doing in there.’

“I said, ‘You’re going to have to come to your senses here. There’s something wrong with your way of thinking about children, what they need and how to raise them.’ The idea of making a contribution was at stake here,” he said.

Postman said he and his wife raised three children on one television set. “We never allowed indiscriminate viewing,” he said. The children and the parents had to negotiate which programs they would watch. Afterward, they turned the set off and talked over the “truth content” of the show. Even with computer software, he said, “We have to subject that stuff to some sort of criticism.”

But while some worry about those kids who have too much stuff, others worry about the ones who don’t have as much--mostly when it comes to computers.

Beemer, of America’s Research Group, said children of affluent parents are four times more likely to have computers than children of low-income parents.

That may be changing. “The price of computers has dropped dramatically over the last five years,” said Robin Raskin, editor in chief of Family PC magazine. “You are seeing parents sacrificing whatever--vacations, clothing, a second TV--so their children can have a computer.”



To kids, their rooms are still sanctuaries, even if they’re so wired they threaten to blow a fuse. “It’s like a place I can relax and get away from everything. It’s like my own place, you know?” said Veronica Sheftz, 16, of Saugus, who inherited her brother’s TV, VCR and stereo when he moved out recently. Maybe she doesn’t listen to stations her parents would choose. But, she said, “I think we should be able to listen to the music we want to.”

For years, Court Nickel, 17, of Irvine, has hibernated in his room where he talks to people worldwide on the Internet, plays games and takes high school self-study courses through his computer. He also has three phones, a combination TV-VCR and two stereos.

“If I had the kitchen sink, I’d live in my room. Totally,” he said.

But Court said he realized he was spending too much time there a few years back during the Laguna Beach fire. “I was close enough that I could step outside and see the line of fire, but I was watching it on TV,” he said.

He still likes his room, but he has now become acquainted with the outside world. Among his discoveries were fresh air and real people.

“The whole thing, nature and the breeze, being able to see things, the kind of things you can touch instead of seeing something that looks like it that you can’t touch. . . .

“Getting a pat on the back, not just reading ‘Pat on the back.’ ”

He found a girlfriend.

He understood then that everything that came into his room was an alternative to being there. Now, he says, “I’d rather be there. You just feel a whole lot happier.”