Ruining Your Kids the Old Fashioned Way

September 19, 2011 |  by  |  featured, fun links, parenting

A recent study has confirmed what we already knew: Watching Spongebob makes kids stupid. Immediately Nickelodeon jumped on it claiming that the study was flawed and that Sponge Bob is for 6-9 year olds not 4 year olds (which was the age of children in the study) and thus the results are invalid. The AAP article also suggested that this was a preliminary study and more research is needed to further understand the phenomenon.

No it isn’t. SpongeBob makes you stupid. Please don’t use any more of our public health research funds to investigate this.

SpongeBob Square Pants

The good news is that SpongeBob-induced stupidity is temporary so your children will recover from their SpongeBob exposure. Although I watched the season finale of Big Brother over 12 hours ago and I’m still struggling with simple math problems. And yes I choose to blame it on my shameful TV viewing habits. Because then I can cling to the hope that it is “temporary.”

Sometimes the list of things we’re supposed to worry about for our kids feels ridiculously long. I don’t have enough energy to be a helicopter parent or hang out with people who are. (Seriously, have you ever tried to have a playdate with a helicopter parent? It’s EXHAUSTING.) And while the media is constantly trying to shove baseless fears down my throat (Is there killer mold in your kitchen sponge? Maybe but nobody has died in my kitchen yet…) I try really hard to not it let turn me into an Ostrich Mom. So while I’m not a fan, SpongeBob-induced stupidity is not something I can get too hyped up about.

Although it got me thinking about the shows I watched as a kid.

Cartoons I Watched as a Kid

(In order of increasing likelihood to cause lifelong trauma and maladjustment.)

  • Tom and Jerry
  • Bugs Bunny & Friends
  • Transformers
  • Voltron
  • Thundercats
  • He Man
  • Jem and the Holograms

TV is OK

My best argument in defense of TV is that hey – I watched it and managed to turn out OK. I am neither morbidly obese, a hoarder, nor unable to develop and sustain adult relationships. And I like TV! Some days I can’t wait until the blessed time of night when the kids are in bed, the kitchen is clean, and I can park my butt on the couch and hunt for something juicy in my Tivo queue. And by “juicy” I mean “has Ron Swanson in it.”

Sometimes I think about how much I could accomplish if I didn’t have a TV. But then I think about those annoying “We don’t even OWN a TV” people and that is definitely a club I don’t want to join. Plus I’m pretty sure that not having a TV would lead to my kids getting beat up at school.

TV is Not OK

Admittedly the scientific proof is a little loose. But honestly, we ALL know that TV makes you fat, stupid, and probably gives you ADHD. Even the people who extol the educational benefits of TV secretly know this to be true. Ask yourself – is it better for your kids to a) watch an hour of TV or b) spend an hour playing outside? On a very intuitive level we KNOW the truth.

But there are times when TV time is more precious than the One Ring – on long trips, when they’re sick, when WE’RE sick, and somedays just because.

But I set limits on TV – what and how much. Just like I set limits on how much Halloween candy they can eat in one sitting, how much glitter glue they can put in their hair, and how much bubble stuff is “appropriate” to make a bubble bath (note: less than an entire bottle).

It’s Not Really About TV

When I was a kid you had to talk on the phone IN THE KITCHEN. Changing the TV channel required that you walk over to it and ROTATE THE ANTENNA. I was allowed to stay up late to watch “special” movies like the Wizard of OZ and Sound of Music. Why? Because they were only on once a year and you couldn’t just stream them instantly from Netflix whenever the mood struck. The only video game we EVER had growing up was Pong. Yep….I said it. Pong.

By the time my oldest is big enough to have his own “phone” his “phone” will be able to instantly play any game, video, TV show, or song, and it’ll select the media automatically because it’ll be able to read his mind. And he’ll probably wear it 24/7 like a watch (something he’ll never own). Although the upside is that by the time our little ones are old enough to drive, fears about “texting while driving” will be obsolete because they’ll be sitting in cars that drive themselves.

Very quickly the idea of setting a kitchen timer to limit how much TV the kids are allowed to watch will seem quaint because the consumption of media will be an ever present phenomenon.

And frankly this scares the crap out of me.

I don’t know how to help kids set boundaries and make healthy choices in the world they’re going to grow up which will be saturated with all-the-time-on-demand content. I worry that the simple joys of making and then jumping into a pile of leaves will quickly pale against the incandescent lure of 3-D multiplayer video games. Playing actual instruments will lack the visceral feedback of jamming digitally with The Beatles. They’ll confuse friends with online followers.

Luckily I still have some time to figure these things out. But I relish the fact that they’re small and their ability to consume media is controlled entirely by me. And for now, they think that going outside to dig in the sandbox is awesome.

But I’m definitely not going to let them watch SpongeBob.

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  1. As someone who watched all the same cartoons as you did (very nice list btw) and then some (dungeons and dragons was a fav as well as thunder the barbarian), I say hear, hear! Moderate amounts of television (parent approved, of course) will not kill our children in spite of what all the I’m-better-than-you-are-Parents tell us. I don’t like sponge-bob or phineas and whomever or a host of other shows but were my kids to watch them occasionally, I do not believe the damage would be irreparable. Because the time I spend wih them I am imparting my own thoughts and feelings and values and they are sucking it up like the little sponges they are. Great post! Have to interact with my sponges now…(let’s hope they don’t mold!).

    • I also watched D&D, Thundar, and a few of those imported robot shows (remember Johny Sokko and his Flying Robot?) too but I didn’t want to clue you in to just how geeky I really am 😉

  2. Great post! To add, studies also show that the educational t.v. Is not helping them either! The conflict is too long,, and the resolution is too short in these “good” shows. But, I too watched a lot of t.v.. Batman every AM before school (pow,bam,wham), and the Brady bunch, and the Waltons every afternoon ( until General Hospital trumped). My concern is more about the lack of good t.v. ! This kids shows are fraught with adult innuendoes and disrespectful attitudes towards adults. But, when I hear myself saying this, I feel old….. I guess I am old! Thank you for always sharing your humor with us!

    • Nutureshock, right? Great read! I do have to defend The Letter Factory which single-handedly taught my kids their letters. But in general I’m with you: educational = bogus.

      Were you a GH watcher back in the Luke and Laura golden years? Ah….good times. Course in hindsight, why were our parents cool with us watching soaps? Seriously. I was probably, what, 10?

  3. Everything in Moderation as my grandfather taught me.

    My two year old watches maybe 15 minutes morning and 30 minutes at night. In fact as I’m writing this he has moved a stool so he can get within 5 inches of the TV set to watch ‘In the Night Garden’.

    I’m off to turn the TV off.

  4. Always an interesting topic. I will readily admit, my kids watch a lot of tv. But, they play, look at books, color, etc. whether the tv is on or off. And I make a point to take them outside to play every day. And I do police which shows are appropriate, and which aren’t. So I guess everything in moderation.

    • I hear you about everything in moderation. Which is cool now because I’m the moderator. Fast forward through the inevitable evolution of smart phones ~10 years and who will be moderating? Went to a talk about kids and technology and this guy was talking about not letting kids have private computers in their rooms. Our kids won’t have computers in their rooms, they’ll be in their pockets.

  5. My kiddo doesn’t watch any tv at all, which I think is appropriate since he’s only one. But when he’s big enough to ask if he can watch something, I’m sure going to oblige him. I feel the same way about candy – I’m not gonna offer it to him, but if he wants it one day, hey, sure.

    • I totally hear you. But I can almost guarantee that when he is old enough to ask for TV, he’ll want to watch it more than you will want to oblige him. My 2 YO gets limited daily TV time and every time we turn it off he throws himself on the floor to cry about it.

      Ah….good times 😉

  6. I do agree with much of what you’re saying. You make some great points that I couldn’t of said better myself. It is scary how much has changed from when we were kids; but what is scarier for me to process is what it’s going to be like when our kids are adults and raising their own children. I definitely don’t envy them…for many reasons, not just raising children! Though I’m addicted to many of the “perks” of today I often find myself wishing I could turn back the hands of time so I could raise my kids in a simpler time. What been made to make our lives “easier” or “convenient” has actually brought many dangers our parents…our grandparents…our great grandparents…and so on didn’t have to think or worry about. Nowa-days we have kids committing suicide over cyber bullying, becoming social misfits because they’ve never developed social skills with anyone other than the Avatar and mystery voice on their headphones while playing online games and like you said texting and driving!! S*it – they see their parent doing it! I do have to tell you though; I am guilty of letting my kids watch SpongeBob. I love that little guy – he cracks me up! I do acknowledge that it’s not the best show for a 4 and 6 yr old to watch though…it does make for some good humor though when your 4 yr old drops something and says “Oh, Barnacles!” Trust me – it’s better than repeating what mommy often slips up and says! 😉 Great post! I enjoy reading your stuff!

    • In grad school (not that long ago) I was a TOTAL video game addict. When I got pregnant ALL games had to go (seriously, I would totally get sucked in). So clearly I am able to relate to how addictive the digital wonderland can be.

      Obviously someday they’ll come back into the house. Then we’ll see who can do the best job of setting boundaries – Mom for her kids, or Mom for herself. *sigh*

  7. TV for kids, specifically the preschool set is WAY more educational than my tv watching was at that age…butthen, all I would have watched was maybe Sesame Street and that IS pretty educational…


    regardless, tv has changed, technology has changed. We need to get with it and remember everythign in moderation.

    Except SpongeBob…oh I HATE SpongeBob. His show has been banned from my house.

    visiting from Lovelinks

    • I was like you – we only had 4 channels as a kid and nothing as sexy as Spongebob was on them.

      I see lots of people talking about “everything in moderation” which I totally agree with. But I also feel like being able to moderate is a really adult skill. Do kids moderate well? And when they have a handheld device with anything they could possibly want within arms reach 100% of the time, how well will they be able to moderate then?

      Thanks for visiting!

  8. This is an amazing post on so many levels and my phone is bound to spazz out if I say anything of depth or importance. So i’ll just start following your blog now so I can someday comment meaningfully from home.

    • Just checked out your blog. I am a runnner-who-hates-to-run also! But would never have the guts to post a video of myself field-testing a sports bra. So to you I say – BRAVO! 🙂

  9. Oh I love your list of TV cartoons. Could I add She Ra and Dungeons and Dragons? 😉 I definitely love my children playing outside and in the sand box more than sitting in front of the idiot box, but you’re absolutely right – moderation and parental control is key. TV has saved us so often whenever I’m sick – not often, but still!

    • Oh yeah – She Ra! Is it just me or were there a lot of shows when we were kids that featured scantily clad women wielding swords? Seriously, whats up with that?!?

      We had a tummy virus that EVERYBODY got one after the other last spring. We all basically sat around and watched TV for 2 weeks straight while we waited for the “currently sick person” to finish throwing up. I remember wondering what people would have done in this circumstance before TV?

  10. Apologies for the longest comment EVER.

    I watched just about everything that you did but I’ve never even heard of Jem and the Holograms. How did that happen? (Thundercats HOOOO!!!)

    But there was also a period of my childhood life where I only watched PBS, and that left me woefully underequipped to hang with my peers. So I honestly do think watching some TV can be good for a kid’s social life. Too, I balance the cons of TV with the fact that TV… and I am aware this might be kind of controversial for a lot of people .. makes me a better parent. In that sometimes, when any further harassment or whining or agita would drive me over the ledge, I can turn on the boob tube and sigh with relief. Or make dinner. Whichever.

    One thing that’s interesting–my kids honestly do not understand what commercials are, because we only watch DVDs, Netflix streaming, etc. On the rare occasions that we watch actual live TV they are utterly confused by the interruption in the show. So that’s a case where I think technology has actually improved the impact of TV (cause at least they’re not being indoctrinated to want Lucky Charms as they watch).

    IMO the “media-saturated world” is definitely a concern, but we just can’t anticipate how it will operate in the decade or so it will take to really be an issue for our kids. I once sat on a plane and watched a couple pre-teen boys watch basically snuff videos on a laptop–people dying doing dumb things. It was sickening and made me resolve to keep watch on my kids’ media consumption. But I really can’t cross that bridge until I come to it. Look at how radically our media world has changed since early 2000s, and in ways that we’d never have guessed.

    I’ve totally let my 4-year-old watch SpongeBob. I kinda like SpongeBob.

  11. Jem! She’s truly outrageous, truly outrageous!

    (You didn’t miss ANYTHING with that one. PS. Thundercats are new on Cartoon Network. I checked it out one time and was pretty bored. Apparently I’m not 10 years old anymore 😉

    Everybody uses TV when they’re “loosing it.” Another move of mine is to take them out to get treats (who wants Starbucks? ME!). It breaks up the bad mojo, gives me some breathing space, so we can all restart fresh. Is this bad parenting? I don’t think so. What’s the alternative, letting things escalate until everybody is crying?

    Sometimes you need a good reboot.

    And yes I LOVE no commercials. We watch PBS, Netflix, or TiVo so no commercials. We let the kids watch some live TV once (Olympics) and they were confused and annoyed by the commercials. Also they started taking an interest in McDonalds all of a sudden. Stupid commercials.

    BTW – your story about the boys watching snuff videos on the plane pretty much sums everything that scares me about my kids growing up and out of my sphere of direct influence. *sigh*

    • Oh, I’m sorry, didn’t mean to bum you out. But you know, I thought of that episode again recently, after my son asked a blunt question of an acquaintance–she mentioned a child, he asked “Did he die?” and she said “Yes”. All that time I hadn’t known she lost a child a long time ago. I apologized to her later, and she said she didn’t mind and thought it was important that children see adults to have a matter-of-fact approach to death, rather than fearful.

      Thinking on this later I recalled that airplane experience and wondered if it was, in a way, OK. As a teen you need to know about all the big scary stuff like death and sex. Maybe seeing that kind of thing in a video isn’t so bad. (The kids I saw weren’t watching gore that I noticed.) Like an NPR piece I heard some time ago, kids talking about the common experience of seeing porn courtesy of the internet. Not that porn is exactly realistic, but maybe it’s not the worst source of information, no worse than what you hear from peers. And maybe seeing death frankly on the screen makes kids a little more aware that they aren’t invulnerable.

      I dunno… all we can do is our best, but man this parenting gig is complicated! We try to protect them but in the end everyone needs to experience both good and bad to become a healthy person. Just wish I knew what is the really damaging stuff and what isn’t.

      • “Maybe porn isn’t the worst source of information….”

        Really? Seriously, what is worse than porn? I mean I guess there is gentle lady porn which may not be so bad. But (my roomates used to be dudes so I sort of know a bit about porn *sigh*) there is lots of really nasty gross horrible porn. And while I have no science to back it up, my guess it that 97% of porn is the latter.

        But I hear you – they’re going to be exposed to “stuff” and nobody can tell you what the “really damaging stuff” is 😛

        • Thank you for replying to the porn comment honestly and for not holding back as not to offend.

          It is one of the worst possible things to stumble upon, especially as a child. The long term effects/ repercussions are huge, and not to be taken lightly. We as parents have to prepare our kids for life, but talking about death and watching it happen are very different. And there are cultural differences here…for example, war torn countries. In short, we-as parents, must teach and guide our kids. If we keep their best interest at heart, respect and do all we can to maintain their innocence-while loving them unconditionally. They will surely turn out to be decent adults who go on to raise lovely children of their own. Thanks for keeping it real. And I loved Shera!

          Currently sleep training my 9 month old who has been a reflux sufferer and therefore ended up sleeping propped up in our bed…sleeps 5hrs at a clip., crappy napper and stubborn…but oh so darling. Baby #1 was in the crib at 10 weeks and sleeping through the night. Goes to show how different every kid can be. Oh how I cannot wait to sleep through the night again!!

  12. Tom and Jerry seriously was horribly violent and we all watched it. What about all those Disney movies too? Snow White? Her mother died and her step mother was jealous of her and wanted to kill her and sent a hunter to rip her heart out with a knife and bring it back in a box, for crying out loud!! But I digress – you were talking about ADHD not Antisocial Personality Disorder. Simply put, what a great and well-thought out post, as usual!

    • Most of the old Fairy Tales are brutal and bloody. I think the lesson learned from them is that if your Dad remarries you are dead….DEAD I tell you.

      And I’m pretty sure Tom and Jerry causes ADHD AND Antisocial Personality Disorder. I mean seriously, Jerry never really even does anything to Tom. Most of the time Tom is just this psychopath who is trying to kill Jerry just because he is bigger and thus feels he CAN.

      Ah….good times 😉

  13. Amen, sister! I absolutely agree with everything you wrote here. I don’t have kids just yet, but I have the same fears for the future as well. Kids are much too attached to technology and video games and the like. Have you seen the Disney movie WALL-E? Where all the humans are fat, lazy, slobs because all they do all day is sit in their hoverboard chairs with a screen in front of their faces? It’s scary to think what this world is coming to due to the advancements and conveniences of technology.

    • Most people think of WALL-E as a charming robot movie but it’s a really crushing statement about our society. We literally pollute and shop ourselves into oblivion. We become human jellyfish who seem to subsist on nothing but jumbo slushies 24/7. And it stings because it feels so PLAUSIBLE.

      PS I noticed you are a Team Beachbody coach. I’m a lame not-super-committed Insanity type person. Nice to meet you!

      • Exactly Alexis, you are so right about that. It’s scary to think that could actually be our future for this planet. And I think it’s pretty accurate. Which is part of the reason I did become a Beachbody coach; so I can help End The Trend of obesity in this country, one person at a time. If I have kids in the future, their technology use will be heavily controlled and moderated.

        I have done Insanity too! It’s great; I love it. If you want to get committed again, and get back into it, I’d love to help you reach your goals. My contact info is on my blog. Nice to meet you, too! =)

  14. I find it hard to believe that Spongebob is even for 6-9 yr olds… I love that dang show myself, and I’m FIFTY, LOL!

  15. What a great site! Lot’s of good information. I agree that too many kids spend too much time watching television. And with such amazing computer generated effects, it does make you wonder if they will have problems “blurring” reality with animation. (Some of it is so good I have trouble telling what was computer generated and what is real!).

    Some of your readers might be interested in a page I put together with what myself and my wife have come up with. We are sick of kids getting computer games for Christmas, so we spent hours researching the best 10 toys for christmas that are durable and educational.

    Check it out here

    Keep up the great work!

  16. Hey Nik,
    I would suggest that a Leappad IS a computer game just with a thin educational veneer.

    Personally for boys, you can’t beat legos. They are an unbelievable educational tool (spatial reasoning, problem solving, sharing, respect for other’s work, etc.) and while they’re ridiculously expensive they also have a long playable shelf life.

    • Why not Legos for girls, too?

      • Well for starters, both of my kids are boys so I don’t feel I can speak with any authority for what girls do and don’t dig as toys. But I will say that anecdotally, I don’t know any girls who are even remotely lego-mad to the degree my two dudes are. So feel free to drop $130 on the Lego Chima Temple but be forewarned, your little girl may not be as keen on it as you hope 😛

  17. Is it that spongebob makes you stupid? Or is it that the weed you smoke while watching spongebob makes you stupid?

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