To Watch or Not to Watch—That Is the Question
My brother and I took Blue’s Clues very seriously because we suddenly transformed into detectives as soon as the theme song would play. We sharpened our coloring crayons as if we were knights that were preparing for the battle of the century. We sat down in our Elmo bean bag chairs that felt like thrones to our own mystical kingdom. We would dedicate all of our concentration to figuring out the daily puzzle which was to find out what made Blue happy by following the bright blue paw prints that he left as clues in the computer-animated storybook world. Helping our virtual friends was like a top secret mission that needed to be put into action. Our duty as loyal Blue’s Clues viewers was to guide Steve into figuring out the intricate riddle to allow him to communicate with his speechless dog. To complete our daily task successfully, it required us to draw the three clues in our handy dandy notebook, to work as a team with Steve and to deliberate over the possible answers that could be linked to the evidence that we found while watching the 30 minute television program. We often succeeded at figuring out the meaning of the show which led to a victory dance celebration on our mint green living room carpet.
Throughout my childhood, my brothers and I probably watched more TV than the average child. Blue’s Clues, Sesame Street, Barney and Mister Roger’s Neighborhood were a few of the many shows that we watched on a weekly basis. My parents monitored the time we spent in front of the TV and they supervised the content of the shows by watching them with us. I remember that they were not too fond of us watching Teletubbies as well as SpongeBob Squarepants. You might ask why my parents were not open minded when it came to creatures who had TVs on their bellies or sponges who lived in pineapples under the sea. Well in all honesty, the answer was beyond me…
I watched a lot of TV as a child, and I do not believe that it had any negative effects on my development. As an educated adult, I now understand why my parents did not allow us to watch certain shows. I believe that there are some children’s programs that do not allow their viewers to acquire any type of useful knowledge. However, there are actually many educational television programs that allow children to gain lexical, social, and verbal skills. Parents play a crucial role when it comes to monitoring their children’s exposure to “good” and “bad” television programs. My mother often complained about Teletubbies and SpongeBob Squarepants which is why we never really watched these shows when we were younger. When these television programs would come on, she would either change the channel or shut it off completely. Parents cannot blame the children’s programs for causing negative effects on their child’s development if they are simply putting their kids in front of the TV without any supervision.
Children’s TV Shows: Beneficial or Detrimental to their Development?
While going down my Facebook newsfeed the other day, I fell on an article called: SpongeBob Makes You Stupid. Obviously opinionated about the title, I decided to click on it anyways. I read it a few times while realizing that the author used interesting and valid arguments to defend her point of view: “Connecting fast-paced television viewing to deficits in executive function … has profound impacts for children’s cognitive and social development that need to be considered and reacted to” (Brown 2011). Our cognitive and social skills can be influenced by shows that are fast- paced because they can over stimulate the brain which can lead to a failure to complete simple tasks like listening and being attentive. Dimitri Christakis, the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, explained that SpongeBob Squarepants is an example of a fast-paced television show because the average scene lasts 11 seconds which tires the brain due to all the stimulation (as cited in Rochman 2011). Over stimulating a child’s brain for a short period of time is like letting go of an un-tied balloon. You fill it to its maximal capacity and then let it fly free until it deflates to its original form without gaining anything from the process. Fast-paced shows can cause difficulties focusing, planning, organizing and controlling inappropriate behaviours once the program is over.
I was a hard core SpongeBob-o-holic (Alright, let’s be honest, I still am), so I tried to find other articles that were linked to the same topic just to challenge the meaning of my whole childhood. I mean, I feel like I turned out okay, so why is everyone being such a SpongeBob hater? I gained a lot of knowledge concerning the use of humorous distortions on children’s learning which is present in shows like SpongeBob Squarepants. The presence of electricity, fire and beaches under water, Squidward’s constant pessimism and sarcasm and the fact that Mr. Krab is the owner of a restaurant in which krabby patties are made are examples of ironic and humorous situations that cause a negative effect on preschoolers’ comprehension skills because they are too young to know the difference between reality and fantasy (Zillman et al. 810). Teletubbies is also another example of a children program that is based on distorted language because they only communicate with the use of baby-talk. They say things like “Eh-Oh” instead of Hello, “Again-Again” and “Big Hug” instead of using complete sentences that children should be exposed to, to be able to improve their communication skills. Therefore, Teletubby language does not allow children to acquire any form of lexical knowledge and planting your children in front of these shows does not teach them any type of communication or vocabulary skills which causes them to become more confused than anything.
Linking these statements back to the article that I mentioned earlier, these shows do not necessarily make you stupid. If a preschooler watches SpongeBob Squarepants, he will think that everything he sees on the TV show is accurate and intelligent information, so of course it is likely that he would be confused if someone did not explain to him that not everything that is said on the show is actually true. Young children are like parrots, they repeat and imitate everything that they see and hear. So, if your 3 year old daughter is quoting Patrick Star’s “is mayonnaise an instrument?” question, I would be concerned too. A show that does not require a large amount of mental concentration does not stimulate the brain, which can eventually lead to a decrease in intelligence (Rice 1095). It is essential for young children to be as active as possible by challenging their mental abilities with educational games and activities so they can develop within the norm. Shows such as SpongeBob Squarepants and Teletubbies do not allow a child to acquire any new skills, so parents should monitor the time their children spend in front of the TV. As mentioned by Christakis, “it’s not about no television, it’s really about appropriate amounts and appropriate types of television” (as cited in Ostrow 2011). So yes, there is a lot more to it than occasionally exposing your child to the TV shows, but for young children, the harmless little sponge could actually be a danger to your child’s intelligence.
So what shows do require high levels of concentration? That is pretty simple actually: Shows that encourage interaction, participation and educational tools like vocabulary, counting or memory lessons. There are actually many shows that can be beneficial to a child’s development because they provide them with a stimulating environment. As mentioned in Crawley, a psychologist at the Univeristy of Massachussetts, and her colleagues article, children TV shows such as Blue’s Clues allow the viewers to interact with the main characters of the show which can help develop communication skills with the use of playful and educational interaction. “The audience is frequently asked to “help” solve various problems presented during the program. After delays designed to allow the audience time to overtly or covertly provide answers, feedback on solution strategies as well as correct answers are provided by the program” (Crawley et al. 631). Dora the Explorer is another example of a TV show that encourages its viewers to interact with her and her little monkey Boots. In one episode, Dora asked the viewers what trail she should follow to get to her cousin Diego’s house. These questions allowed the children to answer and to help their virtual friend find Diego’s house by avoiding the Crocodile River and the Sinking Sand Pit. The two previous shows are educational because their main purpose is to include and to interact with the children on the other side of the screen. These types of shows can be beneficial to a child’s development because their content is educational, and not based on humor and other distorted themes like the aforementioned programs.
So the real question is, what TV shows should children watch?
After interviewing a mother of three who is also a former vice principal in an elementary school, I found that we shared a similar point of view concerning the impact of television on a child’s development. She allowed her children to watch certain TV shows and she also restricted some as well, which was similar to the way that I was raised. Both my parents and Martine suppressed their children from watching Teletubbies because they believed that it did not allow them to gain any form of education. Martine mentioned that “Teletubbies was one of those shows that seemed to make [her children] become total zombies for 30 minutes because they would just gaze fixedly at the TV screen with their eyes wide open and only blink once the show was over”. Personally, I agree with what she said because the characters do not even use any form of language to communicate between each other. Let’s be realistic for a second, their names are Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po.
Sesame Street, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, Zoom, Blue’s Clues, Barney, Dragon Tales and Dora the Explorer are few of the many educational TV shows that can be beneficial to a child’s development (Dunn 2011). Watching TV can be a fun activity for parents to get involved in with their children because they can encourage them to participate, and they can also ask them questions to see if their child is following the main idea of that specific episode. Also, a parent can see for themselves what the show consists of and use their own logical reasoning to decide whether or not their child should be exposed to it. I always saw TV as being a fun activity and I never thought that it could actually harm my development in any way. I’ve always been a TV junkie and it will probably never change so, even though I am aware of the fact that television has its cons, I do not believe that it can actually severely damage an individual’s cognitive development throughout his childhood and adolescence. I mean, children should definitely not be 24/7 couch potatoes, but c’mon, who doesn’t like to kick back and watch an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants every once in a while.
Laying there in my Minnie Mouse onesie during a scary mid-July storm, I remembered one important lesson from Blue’s Clues: That anything is possible if you just believe. I closed my eyes as tight as I would tie my shoes before running a marathon, and I whispered to myself Blue Skidoo, We Can Too!