Spongebob in Trouble

SpongeBob SquarePants (character)

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From ABC. According to at least one study, Sprongebob Squarepants makes children dumber.

The cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is in hot water from a study suggesting that watching just nine minutes of that program can cause short-term attention and learning problems in 4-year-olds.

The problems were seen in a study of 60 children randomly assigned to either watch “SpongeBob,” or the slower-paced PBS cartoon “Caillou” or assigned to draw pictures. Immediately after these nine-minute assignments, the kids took mental function tests; those who had watched “SpongeBob” did measurably worse than the others.

Previous research has linked TV-watching with long-term attention problems in children, but the new study suggests more immediate problems can occur after very little exposure — results that parents of young kids should be alert to, the study authors said.

Kids’ cartoon shows typically feature about 22 minutes of action, so watching a full program “could be more detrimental,” the researchers speculated, But they said more evidence is needed to confirm that.

It is just one study and not a very good one.

The results should be interpreted cautiously because of the study’s small size, but the data seem robust and bolster the idea that media exposure is a public health issue, said Dr. Dimitri Christakis. He is a child development specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who wrote an editorial accompanying the study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Christakis said parents need to realize that fast-paced programming may not be appropriate for very young children. “What kids watch matters, it’s not just how much they watch,” he said.

This study used a small sample of children with similar background and they were not evaluated before the study.

Most kids were white and from middle-class or wealthy families. They were given common mental function tests after watching cartoons or drawing. The SpongeBob kids scored on average 12 points lower than the other two groups, whose scores were nearly identical.

In another test, measuring self-control and impulsiveness, kids were rated on how long they could wait before eating snacks presented when the researcher left the room. “SpongeBob” kids waited about 2 1/2 minutes on average, versus at least four minutes for the other two groups.

The study has several limitations. For one thing, the kids weren’t tested before they watched TV. But Lillard said none of the children had diagnosed attention problems and all got similar scores on parent evaluations of their behavior.

Well, I don’t care what that study says. I like Spongebob and I have watched the show for years. I don’t think it has affected my mental  functioning at all. O look, shiny object.

Where was I? Seriously though, Spongebob is not educational programming, just a silly show. Parents probably shouldn’t let their young children watch too much of any show on television, but I am sure that an occasional episode of a silly cartoon won’t scar a four year old for life.

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2 Responses to “Spongebob in Trouble”

  1. Justin Hoffer Says:

    It likely doesn’t scare them for life, just likely for the rest of childhood.

    One of the problems with ADHD, which I have a moderately severe form of, is that many sufferers see it disappear in adulthood. Many speculate that children watching television may cause the symptoms of ADHD in children, explaining why so many are misdiagnosed. This study suggests that fast paced cartoons such as Spongebob could be a major part of the problem.


    • David Hoffman Says:

      Kidding about Spongebob aside, it really isn’t a good idea to let kids watch too much television no matter what is on. The fast paced stimuli and the passive nature of watching TV can’t be very good for mental development.


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