Sure, it would be great if our young children never spent any time zoned out on the couch, mindlessly consuming Nickelodeon and Disney shows by the hour. But let’s be realistic. Modern kids are going to watch a little television. So wouldn’t you like to know how to make that experience do the littlest damage? Of course you would. And we’re going to tell you.
New research shows that changing the type of programming your children watch can have a huge impact on behavior. Color us shocked, but all that Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was actually making your children more aggressive. And while science hasn’t confirmed this bit, we bet all that Spongebob Squarepants was making children more obnoxious, as well.
As USA Today explains it,
In one of the largest studies yet to examine how modifying television content affects the development of young children ages 3 to 5, researchers report that six months after families reduced their kids’ exposure to aggressive and violence-filled programming and increased exposure to enriching and educational programming — even without changing the number of viewing hours — kids demonstrated statistically significant improved behavior compared to children whose media diet went unchanged.
And the improvements — declines in aggression and being difficult and increases in healthy social behaviors such as empathy, helpfulness and concern for others — persisted at 12 months.
The study goes on to say that the change was most pronounced in young boys. That result seems pretty logical, given that boys are normally the target market for more aggressive and violence-filled cartoons. The battles of superheroes and Star Wars cartoons present plenty of fighting and anger and are normally thought of as “boy cartoons.” What’s more, some popular children’s characters for boys have been getting adult movies, that often, little boys beg their parents to see. My 7-year-old nephew was desperate to see The Dark Knight Rises with his favorite superhero, Batman. But was the movie really appropriate for elementary-age kids?
Of course, television viewing will still have other effects on children, such as increased risk for obesity. Anytime kids spend hours not moving, we can assume that it’s not great for their physical well-being.
But now, parents can consider that we have options for making screen time a little less harmful. Swap out a little Kung Fu Panda for Wild Kratts. Trade in LEGO Ninjago for some Phineas and Ferb. More than anything, make sure that the cartoons your child is watching are right for their age group. Just because it’s animated doesn’t mean it is for toddlers.
I suppose it’s worth suffering through Yo Gabba Gabba if we get better behaved kids out of it. Right?
(Photo: Power Rangers)