New Study Says Shows Like Sponge Bob Square Pants Cause Attention Problems in Preschoolers

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Way back at the start of my blog I wrote an article about the importance of delaying the introduction of television until a child is at least two years old.  In addition, I talked about the negative impacts excessive tv watching can have in young children.

In a recent study conducted by psychologists Angeline Lillard and Jennifer Peterson of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and published in the journal Pediatrics, children were divided into 3 sets of 20.  One group of children colored for 9 minutes, one watched Caillou for 9 minutes, and one group watched Sponge Bob Square Pants for 9 minutes.

Each child was then given a series of tests which involved remembering a series of numbers, following rules, and delaying gratification.  Neither the Caillou nor the coloring group had a problems with the tests, but the children in the Sponge Bob Square Pants group did significantly worse on the tests.  Researchers say that the cartoon’s fast-paced scenes may make it harder for preschoolers to be attentive and think.

Though this study did not focus on the long term affects of fast paced TV shows on preschool aged children, other studies have found that children who watch a lot of TV as preschoolers have more problems with attention in the elementary-school years.

It’s not SpongeBob himself who’s the culprit, child development specialist, Dimitri Christakis says, but fast-paced or violent shows. “It’s overstimulation that causes the problem,” he says. The theory is that overstimulation while a child’s brain is developing makes it harder to focus on sustained tasks later on.

With so much non-age-appropriate marketing aimed at our kids, it can be difficult, as parents, to ensure our children are watching only what is appropriate and most beneficial for their little minds.  I myself am guilty of letting Big Brother watch “fast-paced or violent” shows that I know are too old for him.  What do you do when your little guy is completely obsessed with super heroes and transformers?  Well, I’m the mom, I care about how my son develops, and I am resolved to be better. 🙂

What do you think of the results of this study?

What do you do to make sure your children are watching age appropriate shows?



About Amy @ Oh So Savvy Mom

Amy is mom to three, wife to one, and a sister and aunt to many. Her family is a former military family now settled in Lehi, Utah. Oh So Savvy Mom began as a way for Amy to share parenting and product advice with others. Just as she has evolved, Oh So Savvy Mom has evolved into a resource for Healthy Living for Families, Food, Parenting, and Family Travel.


  1. My kids have always watched tv from an early age. I haven't seen any negative effects from that. My youngest is 6 and taught himself to read when he was 4. He is crazy about Spongebob but it hasn't made him stupid lol. But then again, he also loves to watch all of the educational shows too. So maybe it just all balances out :).
  2. I am really not a huge lover of children's' TV shows. I find the whiny tone and rude/demeaning humour offensive and don't want my children to pick up on it to use on their peers. We recently moved and I knew there was a chance we wouldn't have regular TV reception. We don't and my husband and I decided that we would keep it that way. Our children are allowed to watch one movie a day (which still ends up being two hours a day, or so). By doing that we have made a concious decision as to what our children can watch. Now we aren't perfect. My husband and I have movies and shows on DVD that are for us and we occasionally let our children watch them with us, but for the most part we keep their TV intake very mild. They definitely aren't missing out on anything and this gives them all that more time to get outside. I really like it and they haven't complained either (to my surprise).
  3. Heather Baker says
    We just don't have cable, which cuts down on a lot of children's television and limits us to what is available on Netflix, which is also nice because little man needs a password to get onto the computer so he has to ask to watch TV and then he can't use a mouse so I get to pick so I pick one of the three or four shows I've pre-approved for him. He's allowed to watch Sesame Street, Shaun the Sheep and...that's about it. When he wants to watch something else, we just tell him it's lame and boring and since he's still 2, he believes his parents.
  4. I try to limit the amount of TV my grandson watches. I notice that it gets his attention TOO much and he won't play with his toys. Playing with his toys is what helps him to learn, not pointless cartoons with no message.
  5. I am a control freak over the TV shows my kids watch! No rugrats, no spongebob, and there are about a million others I ban too. I have let up SOME now that they are almost 10 and 12 but when they were little it was all PBS and Boomerang (shows like the smurfs and bugs bunny from when we were kids!)
  6. It's not necessarily that the content is harmless, it's the speed of the content. Scenes change so rapidly, the music is fast, the speech is fast... this is why it's so annoying to adults. As a teacher, I can tell you that kids have definitely changed in the last 10 years or so. When kids used to sit down to a dinner with family, read a book on mom's lap, play with building toys... rather than watch so many shows like this, they could also focus better in class. I think some students who are called "ADHD" really have a tough time slowing down just because 'speed' has become a habit.
  7. Interesting , I really hope this isn't accurate , well because I am in big trouble if so !
    • It is accurate to a degree, but the sample size for the study was small and there is a lot of room for correlations (as opposed to causation). Also, the children studied were preschool aged (I believe). Older children, I doubt, are affected quite as much by the fast paced stimuli.
  8. I have noticed that a lot of adults today would rather learn by visual media. They pay attention to the screen and are locked in. I am not sure about these results for I think more studies would be necessary. I do think that the computer and the tv have made it easy to learn by visual stimuli vs just listening and hands on. My kids are grown but I think that everything in moderation is the key.
  9. Very interesting facts. Actually, Sponge Bob is one of the most played games on my site. The key is to be reasonable and moderate in any case.