Experts know that bullying poses a serious emotional and physical health threat to many American school-age children - it's estimated that 30% of kids are affected by bullying, which can lead to problems with self-esteem and anxiety as well as physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach pain. What experts don't know is why some children bully others. To get answers about why kids bully, researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle investigated factors in kids' environments that could contribute to bullying behaviors among elementary school children.
Six hundred forty-one children and their mothers participated in the study that ran from 1986 to 2000. Every 2 years, the moms reported whether their children bullied or were cruel to other children; they also reported whether they read, played, and took the child on outings during childhood. Mothers also told researchers how many hours of TV their child watched each week.
A child who has supportive parents at age 4 is likely to avoid bullying behavior in grade school. Parents who played with their children, took their children on outings, and read to their children (what researchers call cognitive stimulation) also had kids who were less likely to bully. Researchers think that children whose parents help them learn at an early age may have an easier time learning in the classroom, and they may be less likely to disrupt class time by bullying others.
But one factor increased a child's likelihood of bullying: watching a lot of television at 4 years of age. Children who bullied in grade school had watched an average 5 hours of TV a day when they were 4; on the other hand, grade-school children who didn't bully watched an average 3.2 hours of TV a day. The more TV a child watched at 4 years of age, the greater the risk of bullying during grade school. The researchers think that the violence and verbal abuse shown on TV could serve as a negative model for kids' behavior.
What This Means to You: The results of this study suggest three positive strategies that parents can use to help prevent their children from bullying. First, limit your child's TV viewing: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under 2 shouldn't watch TV at all and after that age, kids shouldn't watch more than an hour or 2 a day. Instead of staring at the boob tube, you can eat meals as a family, go on trips and outings, read, and play with your child - all strategies that may help to prevent your child from bullying during the school years.
Source: Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD; Gwen M. Glew, MD; Dimitri A. Christakis, MD, MPH; Wayne Katon, MD; Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, April 2005
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2005