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The SpongeBob Controversy

Photo by Diane Bondareff/AP Photo

It’s Saturday. The kids have just straggled out of bed. You search for pancake mix when the dog runs into the house with muddy paws.

Desperate, you find the tv remote buried in the cushions and turn on cartoons. Finally,  peace reigns. Or does it?

The journal Pediatrics recently came out with a study revealing that watching just nine minutes of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob causes short-term attention problems in four-year olds. Sixty children were randomly assigned to watch either fast-paced SpongeBob or PBS’s slow-paced Caillou. Following the nine-minute exposure to one of the programs, the children were given mental function tests. Those watching SpongeBob performed significantly worse.

I asked several people closely associated with children in one way or another (parents, grandparents, aunts, or nannies), “How do you feel about the findings of the study? Should children watch the show?” The answers were mixed.

Many believed that watching SpongeBob wasn’t the problem, but rather  the amount of time kids spend in front of the tv. Steve Hutton, father of two young children, said, “We don’t let our children watch much tv period.”

Leslie Ramyk, mother to a three and a half year old commented, “If she gets it in small doses, I don’t see how this could be a problem.”

While some thought that the less tv the better, others found it beneficial to restrict the kinds of programs that their kids watch. PBS seemed to be a favorite among parents for its more educational programming. Suzi Pratt, Rogers Park mother of three noted, “My kids are on a steady diet of PBS only and occasionally Phineas and Ferb. They know it [SpongeBob] exists, they just don’t watch it.”

Others couldn’t believe that SpongeBob was the only program that was causing short-term attention problems. Linda Lopina, grandmother to eight kids, stated, “Part of me wonders though if just this program should be singled out. I think of the frenetic pace of Electric Company when my children were small. I was always thankful to have Mr. Rogers.”

Some people weren’t worried about the study at all. They thought that it created a lot of hype over nothing. Edgewater native Laura Andrews who is an aunt to a six-year old girl said, “Children simply don’t pay attention by the nature of them being children. They could be watching tv then saying oh look there’s a bird! They have short-term attention anyway.”

Many were reluctant to even trust the study. A Rogers Park father, who is not originally from the U.S. and wished to remain anonymous to avoid offending American friends, said, “Overdose of everything is bad. Isolating one program isn’t fair. Moderation is key. [In the U.S.] There is hysteria about raising children. People trust newspapers more than common sense.”

By Kathryn Siemianowski

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The Hub Bub is a collection of articles, videos, audio, photo slideshows, interactive maps and other media produced by students enrolled in journalism courses at Loyola University Chicago's School of Communication. For more about the School of Communication, our award winning faculty, and our state of the art facilities located in the heart of Chicago, visit our website.