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Why Canadian docs say too much TV for your toddler could lead to bullying in school

WATCH ABOVE: After following a group of kids from birth to age 12, researchers at the University of Montreal found those who watched a lot of TV before age 2 were more likely to get picked on by the time they hit middle school. Global’s Health Specialist Heather Yourex reports.

Plenty of research warns that too much screen time for kids could be bad for their physical health. Now, a new Canadian study is shedding light on the psychological aspects. Quebec psychologists say toddlers who watch too much television could be picked on by the time they get to grade school.

How much screen time toddlers get at the two-year mark could be tied to risk of being bullied in sixth grade, according to a University of Montreal study published Friday morning. Their findings stem from a 12-year study that followed kids’ trajectory from birth into teenage years.

“There’s a long-term link between too much television in toddlerhood and self-reported victimization at age 12. We know that watching a lot of TV, generally across a lifespan, creates a time debt for other things,” said lead author, Dr. Linda Pagani, a registered psychologist, University of Montreal professor and senior investigator at St. Justine Research Centre.

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“As a result, you have this little person watching a lot of TV, creating a time debt for emotional and social interactions with other people and that in turn diminishes emotional intelligence that’s accumulated over time. Watching TV is very passive,” Pagani told Global News.

READ MORE: Could personality in childhood predict how teens will respond to drinking?

The findings are more than 12 years in the making. About 2,000 kids – born across Quebec in 1997-98 – have been tracked from birth into their teenage years for the longitudinal study. As Pagani gathered her findings year over year, she noted teachers had a “consistent observation” of who was being victimized by their peers.

Pagani and her team had to wait for the kids to get older so they could pull together self-reported data. By the time the kids were 12, they reported their experiences in grade 6. Turns out, teachers, for the most part, identified who was being bullied with accuracy and the kids who self-reported being victimized in the classroom were the ones who had more screen time at 29 months old.

“The self-reporting confirmed all of the previous teacher observations we found and it made us – as researchers – relieved that there was a real relationship with another data source, especially a personal data source. That’s really powerful,” Pagani explained.

READ MORE: How much time does your child spend in front of the TV? Officials update recommendations

Screen time was measured by parents and bullying was reported by the kids. Children were asked how often they had their belongings taken away from them, if they encountered name-calling or if their peers made fun of them, gossiped or left them out.

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The average amount of TV kids watched at two years old was about 1.5 hours. If they watched an hour more, the likelihood of being bullied by their peers increased by 11 per cent.

READ MORE: Are smart phones to blame for distracted parenting?

This link existed even after Pagani controlled for other factors such as maternal education, cognitive function, income, and family dynamics at home.

She suggests her findings make sense. Infants’ brains are absorbing their surroundings quickly – your child may be watching Dora the Explorer and learning about counting, spelling and colours, but he isn’t picking up on making eye contact, reading facial expressions and interacting with other people.

READ MORE: Baby steps – 6-month-olds are using smart phones, tablets, study suggests

She suggests that how much screen time toddlers get could set them on a life course. People who are victimized in the classroom are more likely to face the same social difficulties throughout their lives, she said.

“You create a lifestyle of less effortful interaction and that can result in a deficit in self-control and emotional understanding… Change the context and it’s always the same people being victimized,” Pagani warned.

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls for one to two hours of screen time per day for kids who are two and older.

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carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

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