Sunday, August 4, 2013

Why I Banned SpongeBob

Quick note: welcome to my first week as a co-host of the Sunday Parenting Party! I'm truly thrilled to be part of this group of smart, down-to-earth mom bloggers who pull together a collection of highly useful and diverse posts on a plethora of parenting topics every Sunday. If you're a fellow mom blogger, join in and submit your parenting-related posts below.

Last weekend, Prickly Dad, the boys, and I were crammed into a too-small motel room two blocks from the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk. Anyone who has visited an Atlantic Ocean beach in Delaware, Maryland, or New Jersey knows that if you book late (which we did), you kind of "get what you get and don't get upset." As it turns out, a two-double-bed room is way too small for an American family of four, even if you're all small people (which we are). In our first hour there, Bug and Pie had played "magic elevator" in the closet, jumped from bed to bed about six billion times, trapped each other in the bathroom, played "puppet show" in front of a blank TV, begged to go to the pool, whined about not going to the pool, and started a pillow fight, which naturally devolved into a wrestling match complete with kicking, hitting, and screeching.

Naturally, at this point, my dislike of noise and chaos and feelings of claustrophobia kicked in. I started to yell.

Prickly Dad, in an act of desperation, booted up his laptop and found an episode of Spongebob SquarePants on Netflix.

The kids, as usual, were immediately hypnotized. creating a lull in the action that allowed me to calm down enough to start unpacking some toiletries. As I walked the length of the room from our suitcases to the sink, I overheard one of Squidward's familiar, resigned pleas:

"SpongeBob, will you [cut that out/keep it down/stop crying/be quiet]!?!"

And, like every other time, SpongeBob and Patrick did not cut it out, but continued whatever they were doing to annoy Squidward, only sillier and louder.

My sons (now aged 5 and 4) have been watching Spongebob for close to two years now -- but for some reason, this particular snippet of dialogue at this moment in time made me stop in my mental tracks.

O ... M ... G.  My boys are Spongebob and Patrick.

And I am Squidward.

I don't know why all this clicked now. I'm actually a fan of the show: I've sat and watched marathons with my dad, for cripes' sake. It's a smart, well-written show -- for grown-ups (and maybe astute older teens). All of the sudden, it just came to me: this can't be good for preschoolers -- especially for my preschoolers! This SpongeBob scenario plays itself out in my home every single day: the boys get silly and loud, I get upset and ask them to stop, their behavior escalates. Has this show (and similar ones like The Fairly OddParents, for example), been exacerbating the problem?

I can't put the entire blame on the TV shows. As a family, we are loud. We are silly a good part of the time. We laugh a lot. So the kids do get a more-than-healthy dose of these qualities from their parents.

As soon as we got home from the beach, I did a Google search for the effect of SpongeBob SquarePants on kids' behavior. Most of what I found centered around a well-known 2011 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in which they found that four-year-olds who had watched nine minutes of SpongeBob before taking a series of tests to measure cognitive skills performed significantly worse than the control groups. They concluded that the frenetic pace and unrealistic scenarios of the show were detrimental to kids that young.

Another researcher, Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., of Parenting Science (I love her blog, so I was happy to see her weigh in), wrote about her opinion that the sarcasm, and irony of the show can be too much for preschoolers, who may tend to take the show at face value and wonder why SpoingeBob, who is actually an upbeat, loyal, hard worker, is consistently being called an idiot or stupid by the other characters.

Finally (and you have to take this one with a grain of salt), in 2012, a Ukrainian commission urged the banning of a wide array of kids' programs for being a bad influence on children. Aside from being accused in the study of promoting homosexuality (the "grain of salt" part I mentioned above), SpongeBob SquarePants was cited for teaching three- to five-year-olds to "pull faces and make jokes in front of adults they don't know, laugh out loud and repeat nonsense phrases in a brazen manner."

My kids do that a lot. And I hate it.

So, for now, the last nail has been driven into SpongeBob's coffin at our house for a couple more years. I haven't been able to tell yet if there is an improvement in my boys' behavior (it's only been a week), but I am glad that they've been watching more of Peep and the Big Wide World on PBS (if you haven't seen this cartoon, it's smart and funny and teaches kids about science) and engaging in more pretend play. Calming down in general may take a bit longer for Bug and Pie, but so far, I'm happy with my decision.


  1. Our son came to us loving Sponge Bob, but we never watched it since from what I could tell it seems like an "older kids" show. And now I am glad that I didn't let him keep watching it. And yes, he actually has a lot of those same habits portrayed by Sponge Bob that you mention - way too loud, says silly nonsense phrases for no reason, likes to make his sisters goof off, and I have to raise my voice at times to keep his voice levels down because he can't even hear me when he is that riled up. I am not sure if Sponge Bob encouraged those qualities in home or kids who have the "loud and silly" personality gene gravitate towards shows that confirm their innate behaviors.

    Welcome to the Sunday Parenting Party.

  2. Hmmm...I think you my be on to something! The cartoons & shows from the olden days used to have a moral to the story. Bring back Davey & Goliath!

  3. I am not a fan of Sponge Bob, never have been. When my oldest was about 4 I noticed that when he watched it (and other shows like it) his behavior was very hyper, he didn't listen as much and had general attitude so I banned it. He started watching it again when he was around 10-11 and we no longer had the same issues. My youngest, 8, started watching it recently with Tom and I was instantly reminded why I banned it with Tom when he was younger. Again, Peter's behavior started to decline and I did not like it at all. I took it away and the funniest part was that I heard Tom say to Peter, it's okay, mom took it away from me when I was younger too. I really acted up when I watched it when I was younger.

    I thought it was so funny that her remembered that I had banned it. I think parents have to really monitor what their kids watch and if they see a new behavior that they don't like they should try omitting a few of the more rowdy shows and see if that helps. It did with us. Thanks for a great piece!

    1. Thanks, Kathy! I don't know why it took me so long to put two and two together. I would love to know if preschool/primary teachers can tell which kids are allowed to watch Nickelodeon cartoons.

  4. I've actually heard of a lot of parents not allowing SpongeBob. However, I allow my son to watch it because that's one of his favorite shows. But I do understand why others don't allow it.

    It's said that the series is based off of the seven sins, which seems pretty accurate considering the characters. My son is only 17 months so I don't know how I'll feel about SpongeBob in a few years when he has a better understanding.