Young children who spend a lot of time watching television are likelier to experience bullying by the time they hit sixth grade, according to researchers.

Linda Pagani, one of the authors of a study published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, explained that children who watched a lot of television as toddlers may end up being bullied in sixth grade because their early lifestyle habits kept them from properly developing social skills. For instance, more time spent in front of the television meant less time spent interacting with family, which the researchers noted as the main means of socialization available to a child.

At the same time, early exposure to television has been linked to developmental deficits in brain functions responsible for regulating emotions, solving interpersonal problems, positive social interactions and socially acceptable peer play. Researchers also pointed out that watching television may cause poor eye contact habits to develop, leading a child to miss out on a cornerstone in social interactions.

The researchers worked with 1,006 boys and 991 girls who grew up in Canada. Information about the subjects' TV viewing habits were provided by their parents while whether or not they were bullied in sixth grade was reported by the children. The children were also asked to answer questions on how often they were subjected to physical or verbal abuse and how common was it for them to have their belongings taken from them.

"Every standard deviation unit increase of 53 minutes in daily televiewing at 29 months predicted an 11% standard deviation unit increase in bullying by sixth grade classmates," said Pagani, adding this figure has taken into account possible influencing factors like a child's cognitive abilities and behavior, as well as their family's characteristics, such as income, composition, functioning and level of education attained by their mother.

Even when a TV show is appropriate for a child's development at a certain age, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that parents only allot an hour or two every day to TV viewing for children two years old and above.

Pagani said that there are just 24 hours in a day and half of that is already set aside for meeting primary needs, such as sleeping, eating and hygiene. The remaining hours of the day should be devoted to enriching relationships and activities. Play is an unstructured activity and so allows a child to be creative. It is also an opportunity for parents to promote or correct certain behaviors that will otherwise not be evident in other avenues.

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