Young children who watch a lot of television are more likely to become bullies, a new study reveals. The authors suggest the increasingly violent nature of children's cartoons may be to blame.
Previous studies have linked television to aggressive behaviour in older children and adolescents. But a team led by Frederick Zimmerman, an economist at the University of Washington in Seattle, US, has now traced the phenomenon to four-year-olds.
The researchers used existing data from a national US survey to study the amount of television watched by 1266 four-year-olds. Then they compared that amount with follow-up reports - by the children's mothers - on whether the children bullied or were "cruel or mean to others" when they were between six and 11 years old.
The study showed that four-year-olds who watched the average amount of television - 3.5 hours per day - were 25% more likely to become bullies than those who watched none. And children who watched eight hours of television a day were 200% more likely to become bullies.
The study did not probe what types of programmes the children were watching, but Zimmerman suggests they were mainly animated videos and cartoons. He says such shows may follow a trend seen in movies and cites a recent study showing the average G-rated kids' movie contains (U-rated in the UK) about 9.5 minutes of violence - up from 6 minutes in 1940.
"What I suspect is these violent animated shows are causing kids to become desensitised to violence," he told New Scientist. "Parents should understand that, just because a TV show or movie is made for kids, it doesn't mean it's good for kids - especially four-year-olds."
He suggests parents follow guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommends no television for children under two and no more than two hours a day for older kids. "We have added bullying to the list of potential negative consequences of excessive television viewing, along with obesity, inattention, and other types of aggression," write the authors in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
The study also looked at two other factors thought to decrease the likelihood of bullying - Full Story .