A few minutes of watching SpongeBob SquarePants, and your 4-year-old may develop serious short-term attention and learning problems, researchers say.
A study by Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, revealed that 4-year-old kids who spent nine minutes drawing pictures did better in the tests of attention and cognition than those who spent that same amount of time watching fast-paced cartoons. Researchers suspect a link between such cartoons and lower level of concentration due to overtaxation of the brain caused by watching these shows.
Several studies done in the past also showed a connection between heavy TV viewing and lower attention span of the preschoolers, but the new study suggests that only a few minutes' exposure might cause an acute problem in the levels of concentration and, hence, alerts parents to restrict kids from watching them.
The result was obtained after watching the program for only nine minutes, so watching the full program, which usually runs for 22 minutes, might cause more serious trouble, suggest researchers.
We can't tell you definitively from a scientific standpoint what the long-term effects are, but this one small study - if it's confirmed - is suggestive that this could be a real problem, wrote Dr. Dimitri Christakis in Pediatrics journal.
Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at the University of Washington in Seattle, believes that although the study has been done on a small scale, its methodology is sound and the results convincing and significant.
The point of this study and a lot of other research in media is that what your kids watch is as important as how much they watch. It's not just about turning off the television, it's about changing the channel, said Christakis.
In a statement released to CNN, the producer of SpongeBob Squarepants, Nickelodeon, has questioned the methodology of the study and defended the program saying the target audience of the show is 6- to 11-year-olds, not 4-year olds.