COMMENTARY | Who lives in a pineapple and should be banned from TV, according to one study?
In yet another foray into the questionable science of television vilification, researchers found that 4-year-olds had shorter attention spans immediately following the viewing of nine minutes of “SpongeBob.” The Associated Press reports they were also less likely to wait to eat a snack than the other 4-year-olds in the group.
The implication is somehow the fast-paced cartoon muddles with the wiring of a child’s brain, making him unable to concentrate as compared to a slower-paced TV show or drawing.
Maybe the kids are just excited because they like “SpongeBob.” Maybe they’re wound up because the show is fun, not because it’s messing with their brains. When 4-year-olds get excited, they tend to stay on the thing they’re enjoying, not the task you’re now trying to get them to do. If you don’t believe me, try to deter a 4-year-old bent on telling you the plot of her favorite story or show. It cannot be done.
Television can do a lot of things. It can shape our view of the world; it can give us an idea of the possible and impossible; it can provoke us or entertain us.
One thing TV cannot do is give children ADD.
Obviously parents should not plunk children down in front of a television for hours on end and expect their children to grow and learn the way children with stimuli from a range of sources – books, parental involvement and interaction with the world around them – will grow. Such a stagnant, sedentary lifestyle is not good for children’s brains or bodies.
But hysteria over a 9-minute cartoon is ludicrous. The study also doesn’t indicate if the children were tested later after having some time to calm down from the excitement of the show, leaving open the question of whether the effects last at all. The researchers do not break down their results by gender either; while the other groups had an even number of boys and girls, the group that watched “SpongeBob” had 12 boys and 8 girls, which may have contributed to the difference.
The makers of “SpongeBob” also point out that their show isn’t intended for 4-year-olds. Instead, they say the age range is 6-11.
The combination of television and children is another area where pop-science information can get in the way of common sense. If you don’t like the way your child behaves after watching a TV show, don’t let him watch the show. If the only thing your child will do is watch TV, make the TV unavailable and encourage other activities. The idea that you can damage your child in 9 minutes of television viewing does nothing more than pile more guilt and worry on already-harried parents.