Parenting can be hard work and is most definitely a time-consuming task. As a parent, you most likely don’t have time to read research studies and journal articles about important topics for your child’s development. When I come across these resources that have valuable information for parents of young children, I read these resources, summarize them for you, and then explain how this particular resource affects you.
The particular resource that I will discuss today is the research study, The Immediate Impact of Different Types of Television on Young Children’s Executive Function, from Pediatrics: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
This study looked at 60 four-year-old children, most who were white and of the middle to upper class socioeconomic status. At random, twenty of the children were assigned to watch the fast paced cartoon program, SpongeBob SquarePants, which on average had a scene change every 11 seconds. Twenty of the children were assigned to watch the slow paced, educational program, Caillou, which on average had a scene change every 34 seconds. And twenty of the children were assigned to draw pictures. Each of the three groups participated in the activity for a total of 9 minutes before undergoing a series of the same tests.
Task 1: Tower of Hanoi
After participating in 9 minutes of activity, each child was given directions to complete a task on the Tower of Hanoi. The children were given directions to move disks from one of the pegs to another peg, following specific rules. If they completed it following the rules, they received a 1. If not, they received a 0.
Task 2: Opposites
Each kid was given the directions “When I say touch your head, I want you to touch your toes, but when I say touch your toes, I want you to touch your head.” They were 10 directions given and the children received 2 points for every correct response (i.e. touching the right body part), 1 point for every response that was initially wrong and then was changed to the right response, and 0 for an incorrect response. If children received at least 10 points on the ﬁrst 10 items, a shoulders-knees rule was added and 10 more items were given. Children who received at least 14 additional points on part 2 went on to part 3, where the rules switched (i.e, “Now when I say touch your head I want you to touch your shoulders”).
Task 3: Delayed Gratification
Each child was allowed to pick a snack between mini marshmallows and Goldfish crackers. The snacks were given to the child on a plate next to a bell. The examiner told the child that he or she must wait until the examiner returns to the room and then would be allowed to eat all 10 pieces of the snack, or could ring the bell to tell the examiner to come back into the room, but then only eat 2 pieces of the snack. The child’s response time was measured in seconds, and the child’s response was indicated (i.e rang the bell, ate the snack without ringing the bell, or waited for the examiner to return).
Task 4: Number Repeat
Each child was told to repeat numbers that the examiner said in a backward order. For example, if the examiner said, “3, 4” the child was supposed to respond “4, 3.” The child was allowed some practice and then answers were recorded as 1 point per correct answer, up to a total of 15 points. The test was stopped if a child got 3 consecutive answers wrong.
While the children participated in this study, their parents filled out a survey discussing the child’s TV watching habits, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, a personality inventory, and an attention span inventory.
The surveys and questionnaires that the parents filled out indicated that all children were similar in terms of their TV watching, attention, and other symptoms. This indicated to the researchers that they could fairly compare the results of the tests for each group of children. The results of each test were compared among groups. Results indicated that children who watched SpongeBob were significantly less capable of providing the correct answers to tasks 1, 2 and 4 as compared to the other two groups. The results also indicated that the children who watched Caillou and those who drew scored similarly enough that there was no statistical significance between their results. The task that measured children’s ability to delay gratification also saw significant differences between the SpongeBob group and the Caillou and drawing groups. The results indicated that the children who watched SpongeBob were able to wait “significantly less” as compared to the other two groups. Again, the results between the Caillou group and the drawing group were so minimal that there was no statistical significance.
In sum, this study indicated that immediately after watching 9 minutes of SpongeBob, 4-year-olds are significantly less likely to be able to complete tasks according to simple directions and are also significantly less likely to wait to receive some sort of gratification as compared to children who had not just watched SpongeBob.
What This Means for You
The results of this study do not prove that children who watch SpongeBob will have long-term learning disabilities, behavior problems, or impatience. Instead, what this study suggests is that immediately following SpongeBob watching, preschoolers are likely to have a decreased ability to comply with directions, complete tasks, and delay gratification.
This is significant for parents, because parents are typically going to be the people who are present just after their child watches an episode of SpongeBob. As a parent, you should be prepared that if you allow your preschooler to watch SpongeBob, your child may struggle to follow your directions immediately after watching the program and may also be more impatient or demand to be gratified. For example, if your preschooler just finished watching SpongeBob and you ask him to put on his coat, hat and gloves and get into the car, you are likely to be met by a preschooler who does not know how to achieve that task in a timely manner like he typically does. If your preschooler finishes an episode of SpongeBob and then sits down for snack, expect him to be more demanding and less patient as you prepare the snack for him.
Now that you know this information, consider yourself warned! If you know that research indicates that your preschooler will have these difficulties after watching SpongeBob, don’t expect your child to be on his best behavior after watching this show. If you choose to allow your preschooler to watch SpongeBob despite this research, you also choose to accept that he may not listen to your directions and may lack patience immediately after watching the program. Don’t punish your child for these behaviors when you know the pending consequences!!
If you would like to check out this article for yourself, click on the link below.