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Seattle Study Links TV to Bullying

By Julia Sommerfeld
Seattle Times staff reporter
April 5, 2005
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

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Preschoolers who watch lots of television are more likely to become bullies later on, Seattle researchers say. And the risk increases by the hour.

The finding adds to the list of social ills child-development experts have already linked to the tube, including obesity, attention-deficit problems, violence, smoking and sleeping difficulties.

"These are all hot-button issues for parents," said Frederick Zimmerman, study author and assistant professor at the University of Washington's School of Public Health.

For each hour of TV watched daily by kids at age 4, the risk of bullying in grade school increased 9 percent, the study concluded. This means youngsters who watch the average amount of television 3.5 hours a day are more than 30 percent more likely to bully others than kids who watch no TV.

The results are based on surveys filled out by parents as part of a larger, long-term study of children's lives across the nation. Researchers compared the television-viewing time of about 1,300 kids at age 4 with later bullying when kids were ages 6 to 11.

About 13 percent of the grade-schoolers were deemed bullies, based on reports from their mothers who took the survey. These kids watched an average of five hours of daily television. They also received less cognitive stimulation a score that means their parents took them on fewer outings and didn't read to them as much.

Other studies have found that about 30 percent of kids report being involved in bullying either as the bully or as the target.

"Bullying isn't just bad for the victims," added Karin Frey, a researcher at the Committee for Children, a Seattle-based nonprofit that developed an anti-bullying curriculum used in schools.

Research shows that grade-school bullies suffer in the long run: They're more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol and be involved in street and dating violence, according to Frey, who's also an educational psychologist at UW.

The study, published in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, evaluated only how much TV the kids viewed, not what they were watching.

"Violence in TV isn't just 'The Sopranos,' " Zimmerman said. "Kids' TV often has a particularly bad kind of violence the humorous kind," he said.

Zimmerman doesn't allow his own toddler to watch any TV or videos and says his study backs the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that children under 2 watch no television and that older kids be limited to one to two hours a day.

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