Is SpongeBob Bad for Kids?

Posted September 12, 2011 by

Photo of elisabeth

A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics says that cartoons like SpongeBob SquarePants have a detrimental effect on 4-year-old kids. Researchers divided kids into three groups: one group of children watch Caillou, a slower-themed show on public television, the second group was given crayons and paper to draw with, while the third watched SpongeBob. Afterward, the group who watched the yellow square guy wasn’t able to follow rules as well or to delay gratification as easily. (Interestingly, the group of kids who watched Caillou and the group who drew pictures performed at pretty much the same level.)

Does this shock any parent who has  young kids? Watching SpongeBob even makes me a little manic. No surprise that four year olds are affected by the amped-up pacing and crazy antics of the characters.

The reason for this? The researchers concluded that fast-paced programs over-stimulate young kids’ brains.  Watching these cartoons makes it harder to employ executive function in the brain,  the process used to complete tasks. In addition, children “may mimic” characters afterward. (I love the use of the word “may” here. Um, yes, they may do that…and they may do it for hours on end until you want to scream.)

I don’t think this means that SpongeBob is bad or that kids should never be allowed to watch it, by any means. I think it all comes down to knowing your child and seeing how shows on TV  affect him or her. We actually didn’t allow our son to watch SpongeBob when he was younger — not because we were opposed to it, but because he acted like the characters from the show after watching it. (See above.) His behavior was so crazy it made us crazy, and we knew that it wasn’t doing him any favors, either, so we set some firm limits around that cartoon and others like it.  (We also didn’t let him drink coffee, eat cotton candy for breakfast, or stay up until 1 a.m. — all things he begged to be able to do — pretty much for the same reasons.)

Now that he’s 8, it luckily doesn’t have quite the same effect, but I still think cartoons are best watched in small doses.

What do you think? Do you notice a change in your child’s behavior when he or she watches Sponge Bob or other amped-up cartoons? And how do you limit TV time?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

Popular on Empowering Parents

Reader Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. E Ray Report

    I remember when I was a kid my parents forbid me to watch “You Can’t do that on Television”. Never really understood why, other than they thought it was stupid. Not sure how old I was, probably 10 or so, though I did have younger siblings.

  2. Caitlind21 Report

    And we wonder why all these are now being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD!! its because they are so use to the fast pace media that they attention span is less and less. they need thinks quicker then what we as parents needed when we were younger and didnt have TV.

  3. rmrojo02 Report

    Ok, let me start off by saying that SB is intended for kids 6-11 years old. The study was done on 4 year olds. There were 60 kids divided into 3 groups: the first group watched 9 min. of SB, the second group watched some boring program on pbs, and the third group drew pictures with crayons. Then they tested all 3 groups immediately afterwards. The 3rd group obviously did the best, but get this…the group who watched pbs did only about 5% better than those kids who watched SB. I think the study is completely overrated and at the end of the day, you just need to examine your own kid and see if the show really affects him/her or not. My 6 year old has been watching SB for almost a year and he does great in school. If you don’t want your kid watching the cute show, so be it, you have the right. But don’t base that decision over a study. Examining the actual chemistry of a child’s brain and testing something as nebulous as their attention span are two different things. Attention spans really vary from kid to kid. And if they would test 6 year olds instead of kids who shouldn’t be watching SB, I’m sure the results of that study would be harmless…


  4. sam Report

    I have three boys ages 8-15. Each one is unique in their own special way. So it is a challenge at times changing colors for each situation.This fast paced media really has me concerned as a parent. If we as parents are not getting the job done effectively at home, this country’s work force is in dire straights. I already see it with the new hires at the firehouse.The community counts on us!

  5. DollFaceAZ Report

    I am the mother of three girls ages 9 to 13, and (among other cartoons that I find personally offensive such as “Family Guy” on Fox) Sponge Bob is banned from my TV. Not only would I rather listen to nails being dragged down a chalkboard than that irritating voice, watching Sponge Bob has had a negative affect on my childrens’ activity levels. When they were allowed to watch it, it had an almost hipnotic effect on them. I couldn’t get them to get up and do anything if the show was on, and if I turned the TV off to get their attention; they would yell at ME. Do I believe that Sponge Bob has a negative affect on children? Yes, I’ve seen it first hand.

  6. Bethwebb Report

    My son’s Kindergarten teacher, Master’s Degree and teaching for 35 years – said that with the onset of fast paced media – tv, video games etc. – children’s attention spans have gotten shorter and shorter.

    This is a huge issue, if parents of young children only realized that what older children may be able to handle, younger children cannot.

  7. A.... Report

    I too have a son who is deeply affected by media. I will go one further, video games are also bad for kids, and for the same reason Sponge Bob is. I am surprised that they have not studied the effects that all media has on the brain. A simple EEG while playing video games or watching a movie would tell us a lot.

    It has taken a while, but he is now down to 1 hour of media a day, I am constantly fighting the “It’s not fair” fight with him, but the end result is well worth the effort.



Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families