Ordinarily happy-go-lucky Nickelodeon cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants has been accused in the past of brainwashing kids with a "pro-homosexual agenda" and theories about global warming, and now scientists are saying the cartoon may actually be harmful to 4-year-olds, reports MSNBC. Uh oh.
Earlier today, the journal Pediatrics published a study that found 4-year-olds' attention spans were affected negatively by fast-paced cartoons like SpongeBob—but not by the slower pace of a PBS show. For the study, researchers split kids up into three groups, with one group watching nine minutes of SpongeBob, another group watching nine minutes of Caillou (a more realistic PBS cartoon about a preschool boy), and the third group drawing pictures for nine minutes with no television at all. Immediately following, the kids were tested for how well they could stay on task; the SpongeBob watchers performed the poorest while the PBS watchers and the kids who drew performed equally well.
The reason? SpongeBob is so fast-moving that it may be a bit too much for preschoolers to take in. But as Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler says, “SpongeBob is produced for 6- to 11-year-olds. Four-year-olds are clearly not the intended demographic for this show.”
While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 2 not watch any TV, kids typically start watching as young as 4 months old, according to a commentary by Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician, which accompanies the study. And let's be real—it's nearly impossible to shield your kids from television completely. (Especially if you'd like a moment of free time to go to the bathroom.)
But, before you banish poor SpongeBob to his pineapple under the sea forever, know that the study does have a number of limitations, including its size (just 60 4-year-olds) and the unanswered questions it leaves, including how long-lasting these effects might be, what the effects of a full half-hour episode might be, and whether older children would be impacted in the same way. Perhaps for now, we should thank SpongeBob for reminding us that it's not just the quantity of TV we have to be wary of, but the quality, too.
Do you let your kids watch SpongeBob? What do you think of the show?