Recently, articles in the medical media have raised concerns about the effect on children’s brains and their cognition in general due to fast-paced cartoons. An article by Michael Smith featured in MedPage Today (9/12/11) noted a University of Virginia study performed by Angeline Lillard, PhD, and Jennifer Peterson, that points to kids’ cognition possibly being impaired by the rapid switching of scenes in cartoons such as “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
In the U.Va. controlled study, “The immediate impact of different types of television on young childrens’ executive function,” children who watched a rapid-pace, 9-minute cartoon that featured marine animals did less well afterward on tests of attention and cognition than children who spent the same amount of time using their creativity drawing. The children also performed less well in testing than children who watched a slower-paced, educational cartoon. This particular study was reported in Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal (Pediatrics 2011; DOI: 10:1542/peds.2010-1919.)
In a follow-up commentary on the study, Dmitri Christakis, MD, University of Washington-Seattle, suggested that while the U.Va. study had some weaknesses, including a small sample size (60 children), it raised an interesting point that “more children are now ‘digital natives’” who are highly exposed to media and are more accustomed to the various forms. (Christakis, DA, “The effects of fast-paced cartoons,” Pediatrics 2011: DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2071.)
On another front, concerns were raised about childrens’ exposure to technology in an article called “Generation Wired” in the October 9, 2011, issue of Parade Magazine. The article offers a quiz parents can take, entitled, “What Kind of Internet Parent Are You?” (found at http://www.Parade.com/wired ), and helps parents decide whether they need to get involved in their childrens’ digital lives as actively as they do in academic or sports activities.
Television and the digital landscape can be positive places for kids to go to. The various media to which children are exposed can promote healthy habits, but children need guidance. Well-informed guidance is important for parents, family members and caregivers to provide. For today’s children, TV and computer technology have become an integral part of their lives, and parents need to make smart choices about what their children hear and see, whether it’s on TV or the Internet.