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.