Turn off the TV and hang out with your kids. That seems to be the message of a new study on what makes playground bullies.
Children who watch a lot of television are more prone to push other kids around, according to the research. Conversely, four-year-olds whose parents tend to read to them, eat meals with them and go on outings together are significantly less likely to become bullies in grade school.
The study followed 1,266 four-year-olds through ages six to 11.
An increase of 3.9 hours of TV per day led to a 25 percent increase in the probability of becoming a bully. And who decides which kids are the roughnecks? Their mothers. About 13 percent of the little ones were so labeled by mom.
Other studies suggest some 30 percent of U.S. school children are bullied. One small 1999 study found the number to be as high as 80 percent. Just last week, a survey reported half of urban sixth-grade students say they were harassed at least once in two-week period.
The consequences of bullying have been studied before.
Research published in the journal Child Development in 2003 found that young children bullied at school developed signs of antisocial and depressive behavior. A 2001 study in the British Medical Journal found bullying leads to anxiety and depression, especially in young teenage girls.
The new research was led by Frederick Zimmerman of the University of Washington and is detailed in the April issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.
Zimmerman said the study was not designed to examine why TV is related to bullying, but the results of other studies suggest a reason.
"It is likely to be either the violent content of TV -- notably including TV and video cartoons, which can be quite violent -- or the pacing and rapid scene changes of the medium," Zimmerman told LiveScience. "If I had to speculate, based on the existing literature, I would be very inclined to believe that it is the content of TV that matters, and not so much the pacing."
The effect of television is seen even when two important aspect of parenting were taken into account, Zimmerman said, suggesting that the bullying is not just a result of the hours TV-watching might take away from parent-child interaction. He and colleague Dimitri Christakis plan a follow-up study to look gain more insight into the specific causes of bullying.
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Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as Space.com and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.