A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics says that cartoons like SpongeBob SquarePants have a detrimental effect on 4-year-old kids. Researchers divided kids into three groups: one group of children watched Caillou, a slower-themed show on public television, the second group was given crayons and paper to draw with, while the third watched SpongeBob. Afterward, the group who watched the yellow square guy wasn’t able to follow rules as well or to delay gratification as easily. (Interestingly, the group of kids who watched Caillou and the group who drew pictures performed at pretty much the same level.)
Does this shock any parent who has young kids? Watching SpongeBob even makes me a little manic. No surprise that four year olds are affected by the amped-up pacing and crazy antics of the characters.
The reason for this? The researchers concluded that fast-paced programs over-stimulate young kids’ brains. Watching these cartoons makes it harder to employ executive function in the brain, the process used to complete tasks. In addition, children “may mimic” characters afterward. (I love the use of the word “may” here. Um, yes, they may do that…and they may do it for hours on end until you want to scream.)
I don’t think this means that SpongeBob is bad or that kids should never be allowed to watch it, by any means. I think it all comes down to knowing your child and seeing how shows on TV affect him or her. We actually didn’t allow our son to watch SpongeBob when he was younger — not because we were opposed to it, but because he acted like the characters from the show after watching it. (See above.) His behavior was so crazy it made us crazy, and we knew that it wasn’t doing him any favors, either, so we set some firm limits around that cartoon and others like it. (We also didn’t let him drink coffee, eat cotton candy for breakfast, or stay up until 1 a.m. — all things he begged to be able to do — pretty much for the same reasons.)
Now that he’s 8, it luckily doesn’t have quite the same effect, but I still think cartoons are best watched in small doses.