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Watching television could make your child a bully!

by Susha Jacob on 4/11/2005 | Comments | Viewed 3891 time(s) | Full Page View

This article was originally published in

A study at the University of Washington, USA, found the following:

i. Four-year-old children who receive emotional support and cognitive stimulation from their parents are significantly less likely to become bullies at school.

ii. But the more television four-year-olds watch, the more likely they are to bully later.

Led by Frederick J Zimmerman, the study compared 1,266 four-year olds for three potential predictors:

  • Parental emotional support
  • Cognitive stimulation
  • Amount of television watching

Emotional support assessment included questions on whether the child ate meals with both parents, whether parents talked to the child while working, and spanking.

Cognitive stimulation assessment was based on information on outings, reading, playing and the parental role in teaching a child.

The average number of hours that a child watched television was based on parent reports.

Bullying was determined by the characterisation of the child as a bully by his mother.


Mothers reported 13 per cent of the children as bullies. "The magnitude of the risk associated with television is clinically significant. One standard deviation increase [3.9 hours] in the number of hours of television watched at four years is associated with an approximate 25 per cent increase in the probability of being described as a bully by the child's mother at ages six through 11 years," the authors added.

Television can be positive too!

However, Shailaja Mulay, student counsellor and assistant headmistress at St Micheal's School, Mumbai, is confident television watching can prove a very positive experience for children.

"If the viewing habits are regulated and if parents set a good example for their kids," says Mulay, "there is much children can learn from this audio-visual medium. Second, television watching does not spoil children. Other factors, like lack of communication with parents, do."

She shares some insightful advice for parents on how to groom their children's television habits:

i. Combine dinner and television-watching.

Participate in this activity as a family. Post-dinner, discuss what you watched on television with your children.

This opens the channels of communication between you and your child and also makes your child learn from what s/he has watched.

ii. Watching television can sometimes encourage children to read books!

In my time, we read fairytales. Now, children watch them in the audio-visual medium. If you buy the same story in a book form, they will definitely read it.

iv. Ask them to observe the credits at the end of the programme.

This will help them learn about career options in television as well as spark off their curiosity as to how a television programme is made.

v. Watching certain types of programming must be encouraged among children. They help in personality development and widen their horizons:

  • Inculcate the habit of watching the news. Discuss the news bulletin with your child to see how much s/he has understood. 
  • Encourage your child to watch sports channels. This will open his/ her mind to different games, how they are played, etc. 
  • Many children watch History channel and Discovery regularly. I know children who make History scrapbooks and took up photography inspired by these channels.

Getting down to specifics

Ami Somaiya, counselling psychologist with YoungBuzz India (which provides counselling and guidance to youth, including school, college and young working professionals) and mother to a two-year old, suggests setting definite television watching rules to make it a more disciplined activity:

i. Allot a specific number of hours in a week for television viewing. These rules must be applied to every member of the household (especially parents) to inculcate discipline.

ii. Negotiate with your child as to what s/he will watch as well as how many programmes s/he can watch in a week.

iii. Watching television before school or after dinner is a no-no -- it can be distracting as well as upset your child's sleep schedule.

iv. Have a weekly programme chart which your child must fill in every week. The idea is to write down the content of the programme, so as to articulate what s/he understood in words. You could update and evaluate it every week.

v. Hold television parties once a week with programmes your child and his/ her friends enjoy.

vi. Avoid using the television as a bribe to get work done or to complete a task, like feeding the child faster.

vii. Encourage other modes of recreation besides television. For instance, getting the child involved in activities like cooking, shopping and developing hobbies. 

Mulay says only 30 per cent of children watch what is denied to them.

If your child breaks the rules, it could be because:

i. You watch programmes, but deny them to your child without a proper explanation.

Thus, a bad example is set and the child does not take the rule seriously.

ii. You have no time for your child, and it [breaking the rule] is more of an attention-seeking act.