I don’t know about yours, but my children love cartoons. Their favorites are Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Super Why, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Little Einsteins. All of these shows have catchy theme songs and I encourage you to look them up, listen and repeat. When our twelve year-old nephew visited this past summer, he introduced my boys to Sponge Bob Square Pants. This I thought was fairly tame compared to some of the other shows he watched. This was a show that the kids could watch together and it all just seemed pretty silly to us parents. Those that have teenagers are in trouble as our nephew liked to watch “Dude, What Would Happen” the kids in the show are doomed to follow in the footsteps of Steve-O and Johnnie Knoxville, be on the lookout for them to star on Jackass Junior. I know, I will someday have teenagers, but that’s for my future self to worry about, let him deal with it.
SpongeBob is considered a fast-paced cartoon because of the number of scene changes per minute. In addition to the pace of the show itself, other important considerations of evaluating the formal features of shows include the edits and cuts. Some shows change scenes more than 3 times per minute, whereas others have greater continuity with fewer changes in scenes. The “overstimulation hypothesis” is based on the theory that the fast-pacing and sequencing of some shows might tax the brain or parts of it, leading to short-term (or long-term) deficits. This is something we all are experiencing through technology. Right now, my wife and I are both on our laptops but that’s as far as we take it. We all have our limits on sensory overload. We live in a college town and earlier tonight at our favorite Mexican restaurant, there was a group of four college kids eating (and drinking) dinner and were silent while 3 of them were all on their smart phones. That’s been a big deal for me since being a kid as my father would not allow a phone (the one with a cord) to be used or answered at dinner. In my house now, we still uphold that rule as we value the traditional family dinner that my wife and I remember (I remember what I want to but I know it wasn’t always like that). I have always kept the idea as important even though my father now breaks his own rule as frequently as I go off on a tangent. Although this effect has been shown in observational studies of both infants and older children, it remains controversial.
A recent study in Pediatrics (September, 2011), tested the effects of fast paced cartoon shows on groups of 4-year-olds who watched 19 minutes of a fast paced cartoon (SpongeBob), 19 minutes of a slower-paced cartoon (Caillou, a slower-paced popular PBS show), and a control group who just colored. The kids who watched SpongeBob, which changed scenes every 11 seconds, did significantly worse on tests than both the Caillou kids, and those who colored. The theory is that overstimulation during the time when a child’s brain is developing makes it harder to focus on sustained tasks later on.
I asked my wife, who conducts research studies like this one, how she felt about this study. She said that although the sample size was small and she wondered about why the researchers selected to test only 19 minutes of viewing, that the findings were important and should be considered when making program choices for your children.
In the digital age, the sense of “undivided attention” has become extinct. For example, as someone reads my blog, they are also having a conversation with their spouse, watching their children, watching television, and updating their Facebook status to like our FB page (hint, hint). It makes one wonder how much of this article is really being understood or just skimmed? So, let’s be cognizant of how much multitasking we are allowing our kids to perform on a daily basis and take into account how much information they may be missing in the process.
In the meantime, Deborah Linebarger and Betsy Bozdech, Executive Editor of Common Sense Media, identified which shows they thought were Must See TV for pre-schoolers. These include: Super Why, WordWorld, Zoboomafoo, Sesame Street, and Sid the Science Kid. They also warned to beware of commercials and their effects on young children. Many of the preschool shows are shown commercial free, but our kids are still going to be exposed to commercials of the shows we watch. Although we have DVR’s, it is impossible to filter all of these commercials during our children’s favorite programs. I know that while TV and technology is a huge part of life, nothing compares to fresh air and outside play.
There will always be a disconnect between kids and parents when it comes to what we all watch on TV. I write about it frequently as I’m always surprised when I see what my boys watch and even more surprised when I hear AJ quote Caddyshack as he was in the room when I was watching it (Still better than quoting SpongeBob’s BFF, Patrick). Superwhy is a show that both my boys can enjoy together and it encourages reading, spelling and phonetics. It’s reassuring to see my 3-year old sing along with the montage like recap of the show and spell out words with the characters. I will always be interested in what they watch and not just because I love cartoons too. I ask them questions about what they saw, what they liked and didn’t like in the show. While I am a fan, I am amazed when I see that shows like South Park and Family Guy can be viewed in the middle of the day when kids are home from school. When it comes time for my boys to use the remote for the TV instead of just hitting each other with it, you can bet on it that I will use the parental controls. Each day, I ask AJ what he wants for lunch, he has not yet ordered the Crabby Patty.