Nanny State

Who Will Protect Children From Dangerously Exciting Cartoons?


This morning Nick Gillespie noted the recent Pediatrics study that found 4-year-olds  exposed to nine minutes of SpongeBob SquarePants performed significantly worse on cognitive tests than 4-year-olds who spent nine minutes drawing pictures or watching the less frenentic PBS cartoon Caillou. "Parents should be aware that fast-paced television shows could at least temporarily impair young children's executive function," the authors write. The practical significance of this short-term effect is unclear. (Nickelodeon, for its part, says SpongeBob is aimed at 6-to-11-year-olds, so testing it on 4-year-olds is inappropriate.) But I was struck by this sentence in the Associated Press story:

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…a child development specialist at Seattle Children's Hospital who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

In what sense does this study "bolster the idea that media exposure is a public health issue"? Watching SpongeBob did not harm the subjects' health. Even if it did, why would that be a public health issue, as opposed to a private health issue? The former label implies a rationale for government intervention, perhaps through regulations aimed at ensuring that TV shows watched by children are not too fun or exciting. Calling exposure to SpongeBob a "public health issue" is just a pseudoscientific, quasi-medical way of saying, "I do not trust people to raise their children the way I think they should."


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  1. Whoa…deja vu!

  2. in other news, a study from an electronics industry organization discovered a previously unknown component on televisions – the on/off button.

    1. Remember how fucking PROUD old Bill “The Thrill” Clinton was of that cock sucking V-Chip getting signed into law?

      Most studies I’ve read say that the only person in the country to bother with the god damn fucking thing is Ned Flanders!

  3. the data seem robust and bolster the idea that media exposure is a public health issue

    Next up: does watching MSNBC make you stupid?

    1. abso-cheney-lutely

    2. Well, you’d definitely have to be stupid to watch it. Kind of a chicken/egg thing, I guess.

  4. When they prove that watching SpongeBob is contagious, won’t that make it a public health issue mister smartypants?

  5. Caillou sucks.

    1. Caillou sucks.

      As my 16 year old son’s friend told me, “Caillou makes me want to kick a baby.”

    2. It’s better than Dora.

      1. Uh-oh, LaLa!

      2. At least the kid Ray mentioned would have something football shaped to kick if he went after Dora!

  6. Coming soon – an expanded legal definition of child abuse that includes allowing a child to watch programming that is not approved by child development specialists.

    They are the experts, not the parents.

  7. But SpongeBob Squarepants is educational. You learn about underwater creatures like Squirrels and proper methods of cooking in deep ocean levels.

    1. All I learned was to sit in front of the TV and get high…

  8. The results should be interpreted cautiously because of the study’s small size…

    It’s the motion of Spongebob’s ocean.

    1. From the original journal article:

      Daddy monkey (the bigger disk) could never go on top of the
      Mommy monkey (the smaller disk).

      1. and a few paragraphs later:

        the Woodcock-Johnson tests of cognitive abilities.

  9. My kids have watched Sponge Bob since they were age 3 or 4 and they’re both A+ students and well behaved. For the record, I think Sponge Bog is hilarious.

    1. Sponge Bob is no longer as funny as it once was. I’m guessing they’ve got different people doing the writing now.

      1. It hasn’t been the same since Virginia Postrel left…

  10. And of course no one in social science remembers that Sesame Street was purposely fast-paced to keep their attention.

    1. As a parent, I watch both more than I’d like. Fuck the government and all, but Spongebob’s pace makes Sesame Street look like a Shyamalan exposition scene.

  11. Kids are only public in communities that reproduce like sponges.

  12. I wonder how kids would perform on the same tasks after doing something exciting, but scold approved, like tag or kickball.

    Well, I guess those are no longer scold approved because kids might hurt themselves, but I think the point is clear.

    1. i thought tag was banned years ago.

      1. When I was in school dodgeball was FUCKING MANDATORY!

        Even that little shit stain with the asthma and pocket protector played without bitching!

  13. (Nickelodeon, for its part, says SpongeBob is aimed at 6-to-11-year-olds, so testing it on 4-year-olds is inappropriate.)

    Obviously. A more interesting test would involve Wow Wow Wubbzy vs. Caillou. Same target age here. WWW has simple stories, like Caillou, but they are delivered at faster pace.

    1. It would also be interesting the measure the brain damage that results from watching only one episode of Yo Gabba Gabba. (I’ve watched 2)

  14. I always thought Sponge Bob was racist, so I’m not surprised it’s stealing our children’s ‘executive function,’ as well… bastards.

  15. Um, the researchers controlled for “child attention, age, and television exposure.” Depending on how the researcher controlled for a child’s regular viewing habits, the results can be interpreted as proof that kids who are sheltered from Sponge Bob Square Pants cartoons don’t have to life skills to watch 9 minutes of it without experiencing a shock to their systems. Kids with regular TV exposure might be toughened up by all that experience.

  16. My high school guidance counselor let me down. He never once mentioned the possibility of a career in the fake sciences… this crap is gold.

    1. I know the fake sciences include sociology, psychology, and political science. What else falls under the fake science category?

      1. Anything by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Or your average “climate” researcher.

  17. of course Spongebob will do that, but it will also make the kids have a better sense of humor, more interesting people, and more creative. All of which are important traits.

    For example, Ren & Stimpy made me the man I am today. :-p

    Spongebob is the shit

    PATRICK: Hello, gentlemen, I’m Dr. Whatever and this is my intern Spongebob. Won’t you come on in?
    SPONGEBOB: Patrick, you’ve got to open the door
    PATRICK: YOU Do it. YOU’RE the unpaid intern!

  18. This is like the Spongebob Squarepants of psychological studies. Generates lot of “excitement” (amongst finger-waggers) but doesn’t actually present any useful information whatsoever; it’s mostly just noise.

  19. How did any of us manage to not grow up into twitching, drooling, completely incapacitated idiots, what with consuming a steady diet of Looney Tunes year after year?

    1. Pepe LePew was a trans-species rapist, and Bugs Bunny was a malicious self-righeous asshole.

  20. The only show Pepper Jack lets his hos watch is Fraggle Rock. Oh Pepper Jack loves Fraggle Rock.

    1. Pepper Jack, are you serious?

  21. The results show that children exposed to PBS scored higher on the HTKS test. The instructions for the test are: “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.”

    An equally valid headline would be:
    PBS Primes Children for Doublespeak.

  22. I think it has more to do with whether the pacing of the program is age-approriate enough to engage the child’s attention.

    I know when I watch certain fast-paced programs, like the new Dr. Who series, for instance, I get the feeling that the show is rushing along superfast on purpose to prevent me from processing the material thoroughly enough to see all the plot holes.

    Spongebob might be something that a 8 year old can keep up with, but a 4 year old is just going to have his brain smashed into a pancake. At a certain point, your just staring at the screen to look at the pretty colors. That’s why Barney is uber-slow – so that a 2 year old can keep up with the plot.

    I don’t think it’s surprising that when watching an show that you’re less engaged with and less able to follow the story, that you perform less well on tests. Compared to watching a show that hold your attention and makes you think. Some movies you come out of feeling as if your brain has been exercised, and some you come out of feeling like it’s been put through a blender.

    1. I get the feeling that the show is rushing along superfast on purpose to prevent me from processing the material thoroughly enough to see all the plot holes.

      You don’t say.

      I just stare at Karen Gillan. She makes the Who-induced stoopid-pain go away.

    2. Barney has a plot?

  23. I will say that my youngest JUST caught the edge of the Sponge Bob wave before outgrowing it – I only saw enough to know it drove ME mad, and I have NO idea why that show would appeal to ANYONE.

    But I wish they’d show “Fairly Odd Parents” to babies, cause I’m pretty sure THAT show would make babies outright explode in front of them. That show is Sponge Bob x10 to the fucked-up power…

  24. Calling exposure to SpongeBob a “public health issue” is just a pseudoscientific, quasi-medical way of saying, “I do not trust people to raise their children the way I think they should.”

    Don’t think I can add anything to that. You pretty much nailed it.

  25. Beware the Yellow Peril!

  26. Taken on its own terms, a study cannot be both too small for extrapolation AND simultaneously robust. This is another example of a affirmation bias at work.
    And…why is cognitive preconditioning news anyway?

  27. A while back I came across this cartoon show called “Adventure Time”.

    That’s all I have to say about that.

  28. Ahem…

    My theory is that Spongbob is an extended joke in which all of the place names and characters refer to things found in a woman’s bikini bottom – hence, the sponge, the starfish (remember Vonnegut?), the squirrel (a rodent taking the place of the all-too-obvious beaver), the crab, and finally plankton – an evil protozoan ready to spring forth and befoul Bikini Bottom. I have not developed a place for the squid in this universe, however.

    This is a project with which I torture my wife periodically since she is a SB fan. The meme I have planted has borne fruit, as she used this analysis when watching the “Giant Alaskan Boll Worm” episode, which contains an enormous pink worm that has been biting-off pieces of ass from the residents of the town (I am not making this up) – this leads the Squirrel and Sponge to take on the giant enraged pink worm, etc, etc. At least there was no industrial spill of hand soap in the town as the climax of the story, but that’s all that was missing.

    So – maybe the tykes are reeling from the subtext, can’t concentrate because of the Lumberton nastiness lurking just below the surface of this seemingly carefree crypto-porntoon.

  29. Actually, as the mother of a very spirited child, I suspect those children who *prefer* Spongebob over Caillou tend to be different types of learners. I’m very skeptical of these so-called “cognitive tests”.

  30. Keyword being “temporarily.” I think what the researcher is trying to say is “don’t be surprised if the lil bastards are keyed-up and ornery after watching cartoons.”

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