Yes the loveable sponge is the latest to come under fire from child advocacy groups, but this time it’s not for questionable subject matter, suspect role models for impressionable minds, content that could lead to violence or bad habits. So what is it that has watchdogs sounding the alarm about this beloved cartoon, believe it or not it’s the scene changes, the pace of the show. A pediatric psychologist says the every 11 second scene changes leave children zoned out and wound up after only 9 minutes of watching; additionally after watching Sponge Bob Square Pants, the 4 year olds tested could not concentrate, learn or think clearly. While researches compare this kids show to things like PBS’ Caillou, with scene changes every 34 seconds, creators of the former remind them and public alike that the show is not meant for children under 6 and that is in no way meant to be educational, but rather pure entertainment. Still behaviorists caution parents against the modern buzz word worry of over stimulating young brains, something that could have long term negative effects on development, the usual litany ADHD, behavioral disorders. The argument has been heard so many times regarding so many programs, looked at from so many angles and still people buy televisions, purchase bundled cable, phone and internet packages costing hundreds of dollars per month let alone per year, flat screen TV’s have become the standard, ever increasing in size for that complete home theater experience, so say the advertisements, 3D televisions are all the new must have rage. And no matter what is said kids still watch TV and still grow up in more cases than not without huge issues. So much so it’s become a bit surprising that this (insert name of TV show here) is bad for young people headlines garner any attention at all.
But the question remains are we really guilty of over stimulating kids with TV; the truth is that parents today are more likely to over stimulate their children with language and math flashcards, computer games, baby Einstein DVD’s, specialized preschools, daycare programs, introductions to foreign language, in an effort to give their child a jumpstart in school than the growing enclave of parents who won’t let their kids watch regular TV. Another key issue aside from the small number of children in the study, parents reporting on their own kids, is parents in this day and age prone to calling their active kid ADHD no matter if it’s only half seriously, parent’s opinions of their child’s behavior that will change based on how bad a day the adult is having, how thin their patients, how frazzled they are, based on the power of suggestion say if they were told their child had sugar they would assume it made them hyper. Same thing applies here, now that researchers have linked this show, some linking any TV and hyperactivity parents will automatically jump to that conclusion; TV seems to be the same old scape goat it has been since its creation only in this case it is fueled increasingly by parents who “don’t have time” for their child, have lost any real sense of age appropriate behavior for their child, beginning with unrealistic expectations or the paradigm that said child should act like a mini adult, mini version of them. Parents who can’t make Super Nanny’s play and walk away technique work because they want to dump the activity in front of the child, say there’s something to do and run off to fold laundry, wash dishes, instead of implementing the play portion where you begin by setting up the activity, playing with the child until they are sufficiently absorbed in it then walking away to do whatever chore, coming back and offering praise, marveling at their art project, then moving on to the next have to on their list.
Moreover, any parent, childcare provider, or person who deals with toddlers and preschoolers, yes that includes 4 year olds, knows what a challenge it is to successfully transition them from one activity to another; often overwhelmed parents seeking help with this age range of child are told by experts they are moving too fast. Example child told they get no dessert because they did not finish lunch child starts to cry, 2 minutes later, before the child has had a chance to process that mom says time for nap, child goes into hysterics; solution, slow down, children do not process things as fast as adults. How that applies to Sponge Bob, you can’t take a kid happy and excited watching the show, engaged in it and expect them to immediately throw themselves into a less interesting, desirable activity like reading or math, ask them a question before getting their full attention and expect an instantaneous answer. Assuming they were being entertained by the show, they aren’t going to want to read a book or learn something in what they view is a boring way, meaning it’s going to take some coaxing and enticement to get them to do something else; this is normal and why the majority of learning activities for children are designed to be fun first and educational second. Also to be addressed is the question of how much “clear thinking” a 4 year old actually does to begin with; children at that age flit from one topic of conversation to the next at a moment’s notice, switch favorite toys, activities, interests almost as quickly, a phrase pointing to the possibility our pediatric psychologist has the same problem as other adults, failure to truly understand kids. Plus both American and British studies have broached the idea that too much early structured learning, flashcards, mimicking school could interfere with a child’s natural learning through experience and play. So who is guilty of what here, are cartoon makers guilty of making something developmentally harmful regardless of intent or are parents guilty, like everyone else, of moving too fast, pushing too much and expecting their kids to be able to keep up?
Further if this is a call to anything, it is a call to parents to pay attention to both the ratings on TV programs that, as we see, might be about more than just content and to pay attention to the behavior of their child. They are there for a reason if the show says 6 and up then don’t let your 4 year old view it; it can be that cut and dry, if parents want it to be. They should always view a new or questionable show before allowing their child to watch it; better, watch TV with your child. As the creator of Sponge Bob Square Pants keenly stated kids aren’t supposed to be left zoned out watching TV by themselves. Should they see negative effects in behavior, attitude or attention span directly linked to any program, then of course bar them from watching that particular one, yet also be on the lookout for positives of watching any show. One of the unintended side effects of viewing and loving Sponge Bob maybe a winning, positive attitude, something that is ever more important in a positivity obsessed society. Added to that, the show’s creators simultaneously, clearly stated it was an entertainment show not and educational program, like PBS’ Caillou, Curious George and others were meant to be, making their comparison to the former program unfair. Of course the latter programs “move slower” they are designed to teach language, math, vocabulary, problem solving and life skills; Sponge Bob was designed for a laugh, a silly show kids would just enjoy. However, here again it is not without positive effects and learning potential; in one episode the place where Sponge Bob works adds salads to its menu, over the course of the show both Sponge Bob and the kids learn what a salad is. Looking at what the show centers around young kids already get a model of what it’s like to function in a workplace, get along with coworkers, maintain friendships, all things to help those 4 year olds as they go off to kindergarten and beyond, all things that lead to a healthy happy fulfilling life whatever your age, exactly the things lost in so called expert research.
It says many things about society today that you can’t just be entertained by anything you choose to view, read or do; because there are educational toys for children, too many parents, educators and experts think all toys, activities they allow their children to do should be educational; considering supposedly dismal education statistics, people are prone to thinking if it’s not teaching reading math science, history, it holds no value, forgetting those life skills detailed in the paragraph above. Also almost completely discounted is that children of all ages right up through their teen years learn common, every day, even academic knowledge, from a variety of sources, not only from school but from television; their favorite sci-fi show may be giving them snippets of science they would never study on their own, a fiction or comic book they regularly read may be giving them vocabulary and ideas despite it being fiction and not the historical kind, not a class assignment. Returning to the creator of Sponge Bob who said he missed the days when parents didn’t care so much otherwise he wouldn’t have grown up with The Three Stooges, Looney Tunes, been able to be inspired by them; there is a real chance we are robbing our children of sources of said inspiration when we so rigidly restrict what they are exposed to particularly when it’s not based on age appropriateness, moral/religious belief, or content objections. You don’t know if your child’s interest in science fiction will lead them to study science; how many young geeks have tried to create a light saber because of Star Wars, how many have gone into engineering, research and design trying bring the things from Star Trek to life, gotten into robotics because of the similarities to things they watched? Obviously the creators of Sponge Bob were inspired by the cartoons they grew up with. We’ve already seen trends of people going into criminal justice, forensic science because of crime shows on TV, good things to come out of something labeled bad, controversial.
What truly seems to be bad for kids is the tons of research including social trends and psychological theories that will go out of fashion or relevance anywhere from 5 minutes from now to 5 years from now. What seems to be truly bad for kids is the experts all doling out conflicting information making parents dizzily confused as they try to decide what is best for their family, their children leading to extremes. Neither is this the first time television has been scrutinized by public and researchers alike, nor does anyone believe it to be the last. Looney Tunes characters roadrunner and coyote were hailed as bad because they could cause violence, a Christian evangelist came out against a Telatuby as a supposedly gay role model, Disney was embroiled in a scandal in the ’90’s over sexually suggestive drawings and phrases hidden in popular movies like Aladdin; Bevis and Butthead along with Ren and Stimpy were both deemed horrible for kids because of the crude behavior and grossness of the characters that now appear down right tame. In fact Bevis and Butthead creator Mike Judge has remade the classic scheduled to return on MTV in October. Continuing, these programs are missed by people who grew up with them, people who did not go on to be deviants, degenerates or despots, people who went on to lead productive lives and such programs become part of the nostalgia of growing up, fond memories the same way Leave it to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet were for others. At the end of the day parents need to make the decision that is right for them and their kids, but they need to come to that decision and leave researches then and now, theories then and now out of it.