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.

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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