The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

TV-Time Bullies

Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson

Exposing young children to a lot of television may turn them into bullies. So warn public-health researchers from Tulane and the University at Albany (State University of New York). After studying data collected from almost 5,000 households in twenty large American cities, these researchers conclude that television exposure predicts aggressive behavior among three-year-olds. Indeed, a strong statistical linkage arose between television exposure and children’s aggressive behavior, whether the researchers were looking at “direct child TV exposure” (p<.001) or at “additional household TV use” (p<.001).

In interpreting the data, the authors note that “social cognitive theory suggests that children learn to model aggressive behavior that they observe on TV and [this] could explain aggressive behavior if the child is exposed to violent programming.” “Heavy TV viewing of aggressive behavior,” they remark, “can lead children to believe that it is a normal part of everyday life.” On the other hand, the linkage between TV viewing and children’s aggression may actually reflect lax attitudes of parents who allow their children to watch a great deal of television. “Heavy household TV use,” the researchers speculate, “may be an indicator of general attitudes concerning discipline and . . . child rearing in general.”

But let no one suppose that all parents are equally likely to expose their children to excessive television. The authors point out that “mothers and fathers with less education, mothers not married to the father at birth, and mothers born in the United States reported significantly greater values for both child and household TV time.”

Noting that aggressive behavior in young children can prove “problematic for parents, teachers, and childhood peers,” the researchers express fears that such early aggression may be “predictive of more serious behavior problems to come, such as juvenile delinquency, adulthood violence, and criminal behavior.” Certainly, their findings underscore the wisdom of the American Academy of Pediatrics in recommending “no more than 2 hours of media time per day for children aged 3 years and older and no media for children aged 0 to 2 years.” Unfortunately, compliance with that recommendation will probably drop even lower if the percentage of children born out of wedlock continues to surge.

(Jennifer A. Manganello and Catherine A. Taylor, “Television Exposure as a Risk Factor for Aggressive Behavior Among 3-Year-Old Children,” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 163.11 [2009]: 1037–44, emphasis added.)