The next time you hear your preschoolers giggling to the sounds of SpongeBob SquarePants and his cronies on TV, you may want to change that channel.
A new study published in the October 2011 issue of Pediatrics reveals the short-term effects that “fast-paced” television shows have on kids. Their conclusion? SpongeBob isn’t good for your kids’ brains or as they say, “temporarily impairs young children’s executive function.”
Conducted by the University of Virginia, researchers divided 60 4-year-olds into groups, one that watched nine minutes of a “very popular fantastical cartoon about an animated sponge that lives under the sea” (SpongeBob); another that watched a PBS cartoon about a typical US preschool-aged boy (Caillou) and yet another group that didn’t watch anything. After just nine minutes, the group that watched SpongeBob did worse on “executive function tasks” than other groups. Some of these tasks included completing a pictorial peg game and tactical body part game with a researcher.
Now, just because your kid has watched or does watch SpongeBob, it doesn’t mean that any real damage has been done. Despite these claims, the study itself does state several limitations, such as only studying 4-year-olds and not knowing if there any ill effects for older children.
And there are plenty of people who think this study is hogwash, Nickelodeon included. In a statement to CNN, the kids’ network states, “Having 60 non-diverse kids, who are not part of the show's targeted demo, watch 9 minutes of programming is questionable methodology. It could not possibly provide the basis for any valid findings that parents could trust." The network also emphasized that the cartoon is intended for 6-11 year olds, not kids who are four.
In the few times I’ve seen SpongeBob, I have definitely noticed the manic nature of the show. But it certainly draws kids in and keeps them raptly entertained. In my opinion, the results of this study aren’t strong enough to ban SpongeBob altogether, but just in case, it’s probably a good idea to prohibit your kids from any kind of SpongeBob marathon, especially for those 4-year-olds.
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