SpongeBob SquarePants is bad for your kids
Watching fast-paced cartoons such as SpongeBob SquarePants damages young children’s concentration and behaviour, according to psychologists.
Tests showed that four year-olds who watched just a few minutes of the popular television show were less able to solve problems and pay attention afterwards than those who saw a less frenetic programme or simply sat drawing.
Researchers say this could be because children mimic the chaotic behaviour of their favourite TV characters, or because the fast-moving and illogical cartoons make them over-excited.
As a result, they suggest that parents consider carefully which programmes they allow their offspring to watch, as well as encouraging them to enjoy more sedate and creative activities such as playing board games.
Angeline Lillard from the University of Virginia, who carried out the experiment, said: “Parents should know that children who have just watched SpongeBob Squarepants, or shows like it, might become compromised in their ability to learn and behave with self-control.
“Young children are beginning to learn how to behave as well as how to learn. At school, they have to behave properly, they need to sit at a table and eat properly, they need to be respectful, and all of that requires executive functions.
“If a child has just watched a television show that has handicapped these abilities, we cannot expect the child to behave at their normal level in everyday situations.
SpongeBob SquarePants, an animated series that has been shown on the cable channel Nickelodeon since 1999, tells the tale of an “incurably optimistic and earnest” sea sponge who lives in a pineapple and works in an underwater fast food restaurant. Although its surreal humour has made it popular with adults as well as children, it has been criticised by some evangelical Christians for allegedly promoting homosexuality.
In a new paper published in the academic journal Pediatrics, Prof Lillard and colleagues compared children who watched nine minutes of a Spongebob episode with those who had spent the same time drawing or watching a more realistic and slower-paced Canadian cartoon called Caillou.
They found “little difference” in behaviour and performance between the drawing group and the Caillou group afterwards.
But the four year-olds who had watched SpongeBob saw their “executive function” – the ability to pay attention, solve problems and moderate their behaviour – was “severely compromised”.
Prof Lillard suggested: “It is possible that the fast pacing, where characters are constantly in motion from one thing to the next, and extreme fantasy, where the characters do things that make no sense in the real world, may disrupt the child's ability to concentrate immediately afterward.
“Another possibility is that children identify with unfocused and frenetic characters, and then adopt their characteristics.”