SpongeBob and Pre-schoolers

SpongeBobA recent scientific study, published in the journal Pediatrics, on the effect of fast-paced television shows on preschool-aged children has made the rounds on the Internet over the last few days. The study showed:

Children who watched the fast-paced television cartoon performed significantly worse on the executive function tasks than children in the other 2 groups when controlling for child attention, age, and television exposure.

The study went on to conclude:

Just 9 minutes of viewing a fast-paced television cartoon had immediate negative effects on 4-year-olds’ executive function. Parents should be aware that fast-paced television shows could at least temporarily impair young children’s executive function.

Do the conclusions concern you?

As a parent of three (3-year old twins and a 4-year old), I always second guess my decision when I let them watch TV. Creative play, reading, and playing outside are all better options, right?  However, Matt over at GeekDad brought up some good points regarding the study:

  1. Four-year olds aren’t the target audience of SpongeBob, as the humor revolves around irony and sarcasm, two concepts that age doesn’t grasp.
  2. SpongeBob isn’t indicative of most cartoons on TV, much less ones aimed at 6-year olds (and older.)
  3. The study doesn’t mention anything about long-term effects. Matt’s money quote, being: “is it necessarily worth worrying about if your four-year-old can’t do well at mentally-challenging tasks immediately after watching a goofy TV show?”

I tend to agree with Matt.  I’ve never liked shows like SpongeBob, although the few episodes of Phineas and Ferb I’ve seen were pretty clever. So that filter, along with our kids not knowing about these shows yet, has helped us stay far away.

In the end, I’ve always felt moderation and age-appropriateness are the most important areas to focus on with regard to kids and TV. If you follow those principles, it’s probably not worth worrying about possible negatives — especially short-term negatives. Our kids pretty much only watch education-focused cartoons (PBS cartoons, Dora, Diego, etc.), anyway. Maybe I should worry about them not being funny when they grow up?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

(Hat tip: Wired’s GeekDad)