New Study: Too Much TV in Toddlerhood May Lead to an Unexpected Problem Later On

tv_kidsParts By Esther Crain for Yahoo Parenting, reprinted with permission.

It’s no secret that too much television watching can pose dangers to small kids. Children who watch television have a higher likelihood of attention-span problems, academic difficulties, obesity, and sleep issues, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Now, you can add another negative to this list: being bullied. A new study suggests that the number of hours a toddler racks up in front of the tube correlates to the likelihood that she’ll be bullied in the sixth grade. For roughly every extra hour of TV time a child is exposed to at 29 months old, the odds of being the target of a classmate bully in 10 years surge by 11 percent.

Related: Prince William Breaking Gender Stereotypes As Anti-Bullying Advocate

The 10-year study, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, took a look at data from 1,997 boys and girls. The kids’ parents recorded their TV viewing habits to researchers, and the children themselves reported to the research team whether they were victims of bullying.

The amount of TV time as a toddler and the odds of being a bully’s victim were positively linked, researchers reported. Of course, being bullied in middle school, or during other ages like elementary school and high school, can be a traumatic experience on its own.

Why would TV exposure lead to becoming a bully’s target? It may be the way passive screen time prevents toddlers from picking up the social skills learned through one-on-one contact with people in real life, study authors theorize. Without those skills, they may stand out among their more socially-savvy peers and end up in a bully’s sights.

“It is plausible that early lifestyle habits characterized by less effortful interactive experiences, such as early televiewing, can ultimately result in social skill deficits,” said lead study author Linda Pagani, a researcher at the University of Montreal, in a news release. “More time spent watching television leaves less time for family interaction, which remains the primary vehicle for socialization.”

The study results and possible explanation for them make sense to parenting experts. “The toddler years are a time of critical brain development,” Amy Morin, New York City psychotherapist and author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Toddlers learn a lot about themselves and the world in general through their daily interactions. It’s not surprising that these toddlers may struggle with social skills as older children.”

No wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids under age 2 be exposed to no screen time at all, and that parents of older children impose 1-2 hour daily limits on TV watching as well.

Instead of resorting to the tube as a babysitter or blowing off screen exposure as no big deal, make more of an effort to engage young kids in the real, 3-dimensional world. “Toddlers need social interaction throughout the day,” says Morin. “Talking and playing with a caregiver gives them feedback and stimulation that is critical to their development. Playing near other children gives toddlers the opportunity to observe and interact as well.”

Why TV, Kids And Bullying Matter Today

Children who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, increase feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, and loss of activities they once enjoyed. Many children who are being bullied might also complain of persistent health ailments for reasons as to why they can’t go to school (stomach aches, headaches, sore throats). Their grades might also begin to slip with lower achievement scores and an increased likelihood of truancy. Children who are bullied are also more likely to drop out of school when they get older.

Many parents worry that their child, who has been bullied, might resort to school violence. Since 1990, 12 out of 15 school shooters had reportedly been bullied repeatedly in school showing that bullying can have a traumatic effect on any child over the years.

Another fear for parents of children who are bullied is suicide. According to research by the Centers for Disease Control, suicide by children ages 10-14 has increased by 56% from 2007 to 2017. News reports come out frequently about children who have committed suicide, linking them to reports of bullying in school or online. It is important to note, however, that bullying s not the only contributing factor to suicide in children at these ages.  Oftentimes, children with suicidal thoughts or ideation often have other outlying factors like depression, anxiety, or traumatic experiences that increase their risk of suicide. However, an unsupportive home environment when dealing with these external factors, coupled with bullying in school or online, can exacerbate the risk of suicide in children immensely.

All parents want to do whatever they can to ensure that their children are in the best place possible when it comes to social interactions as they get older and prevent their child from experiencing bullying. However, with today’s advanced technology and access to this technology, more and more children are spending less time with their peers and more time in front of the television and other devices.

Related: Audio Books Are a Great Alternative to TV: Here’s Where to Find Them

Here are a few things you can do with your toddler to increase social and emotional development rather than sitting them in front of a television:

  • Join a Mommy and Me group for social interactions with other children
  • Foster independent play and learning with independent activities like coloring, sensory tables, and games.
  • Go on playdates
  • Send your child to preschool for a few hours a couple of times of week at the appropriate age
  • Join kid-friendly workout groups or a gym with childcare

Television and other electronic devices are often used as a way to keep our toddler occupied so we can accomplish a specific task or just because we need a break. As parents, it is important to create a balance between the use of media, which can be very beneficial and is important to learn as technology continues to increase, and using it too much. The AAP recommends a maximum of 1 to 2 hours per day for children older than 2 years old, and if parents need to use it occasionally it is ok. There are plenty of age-appropriate shows, games, and apps available that will help your child learn and that can be beneficial to their development. If parents are making smart, responsible choices with media then they shouldn’t have to worry.


Image: Donnie Ray Jones


3 thoughts on “New Study: Too Much TV in Toddlerhood May Lead to an Unexpected Problem Later On”

  1. While research suggesting a relationship between more time spent watching TV in early childhood and negative consequences in later childhood may appear concerning we must treat these findings with caution. It is well known in psychology that causation cannot be assumed from a correlation as it is possible that both variables, the TV watching and the later negative behaviour/experiences might be being influenced by something else. For example, eating ice cream and death by drowning are correlated but we do not conclude that eating ice cream is dangerous – instead we might assume that increases in both these events are due to nice weather. Therefore it can be argued that watching more TV is not actually directly related to later negative experiences at all… Instead there might be something else which accounts for both, such as parents who are time poor, spend less time interacting with their child, families of lower SES, poor diet etc.

    As a developmental psychologists I do have concerns about the consequences of excessive TV watching in early childhood but please don’t blame TV for everything!

    1. As an adult with ADD, I can assure you that ADD accounts for hyper-focusing on media, other attention issues, and poorer social skills. Unless I work at it, I’m blunt to the point of rudeness, full of non-sequiturs, and can’t look people in the eye. I do most of my projects in front of a tv because having something else going on that I don’t have to really pay attention to helps me pay attention to what I want to focus on. I do better in conversations if I have something to do with my hands.

      Amount of screen time to age 5? Zero.

  2. Learning in real-time, with real people and real objects will always produce the best learning. I agree with the author about limiting 99% of screen time for little ones. I see a lot of young Moms not only ON their phones while with their children but also, handing their tiny children their phones to entertain them which I predict will be a monster of galactic proportions sooner than later.

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