The more television a 4-year-old watches, the more likely he or she will become a bully in grade school, according to a new study.

"We have added bullying to the list of potential negative consequences of excessive television viewing along with obesity, inattention, and other types of aggression," the researchers write.

Frederick J. Zimmerman, PhD, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues analyzed surveys of 1,266 4-year-olds enrolled in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The researchers found that toddlers who watch more TV than average were 25% more likely to be called a bully by their mother.

The team looked at three potential predictors of bullying: parental emotional support (spanking, family mealtime, parent-child communication); early stimulation activities (recreational outings, reading, playtime); and the amount of TV watching, based on parental reports. Previous research shows that these three factors play a role in the development of bullies.

Bullying behaviors of kids aged 6 through 11 were also evaluated, with bullying determined by the mother's characterization of the child.

Thirteen percent of moms said their child was a bully.

However, the risk of bullying can be prevented. The study found that 4-year-olds who receive early emotional support and have a stimulating home environment are less likely to turn into grade-school bullies.

Until now, there has been little research examining the early home environment and the risk of bullying. Researchers say that bullying may stem from a lack of stimulation and emotional support at home. They say however, that steps can be taken to potentially prevent this type of aggressive behavior.

The current study shows that toddlers whose parents bestow early emotional support and stimulation reap "substantial protective effects."

The study is found in the April issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

By Kelli Miller, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCE: Frederick, J. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, April 2005; vol 159: pp 384-388.