Cartoons and the Child's Psyche: Is There Really an Impact?
GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT! This popular idiom refers the concept that input equals output. Whether it be a business venture, a technological programming, or a personal health regimen, the results will equal the input. The same is true of human attitude and behavior, especially in reference to impressionable young children. In order to understand how outside factors (such as animated TV shows) affect a child, one must first understand the stages of development in a human’s life. For those in the preschool stages, brain development is largely at play.
Professor Sean Brotherson of Oregon State University states, “A child’s brain is like a house that has just been built. The walls are up, the doors are hung. Then you go to the store and buy electrical wiring, switches, a fuse box, and other electrical supplies, you bring these supplies to the new house and set them on the floor. Will they work? Probably not. You first must string the wiring and hook up all of the connections. This is quite similar to the way our brains are formed” (Habib & Soliman, 2015). Internal and external factors contribute to a child’s psyche. The specific effects of cartoons on a preschooler depends on the content of the cartoon and the amount of time spent watching the program. Most researchers and educators concur that if little time is spent watching animated videos and more time is spent in real-life play and human interaction, the effects are minimal. However, with a few exceptions relating to educational videos, there are multiple negative effects on a child’s psyche when numerous hours are spent watching animated television shows.
First of all, children are affected negatively from watching animated television in their physical development. Although obesity in one to three year olds is rare, the lifestyle that leads to childhood obesity begins in the formative preschool years. It has been suggested that “children who consistently spend more than four hours per day watching TV are more likely to be overweight” (Ben-Joseph, 2016). “Research conducted at Harvard first linked TV watching to obesity more than 25 years ago.” (Harvard.edu, 2018). Childhood obesity has become a concern worldwide. From Poland to Ireland to China to Mexico to Japan to Finland to America (and many more), the concerns over the impact of television viewing and childhood obesity has sparked numerous research projects and even more proposed solutions.
Secondly, children are affected negatively from watching animated television in their mental development. It is not until the age of four that children begin to understand the difference in reality and fiction. Without parental input, these cartoons can become confusing and/or frustrating. One such example is the popular children’s series, Veggie Tales. While Veggie Tales teaches wholesome values to children, introduces them to bible stories, and is a favorite among Christian families, without parental guidance, children may grow up believing falsehoods. This was the case for one young girl. This young girl became obsessed with Veggie Tales around the age of two. Her parents were pleased because of the family values reinforced by the movies, such as sharing, forgiveness, thankfulness, standing for ones faith, etc. However, when this young girl became a teenager, there were many things about the Bible she believed that were inaccurate because she believed the Veggie Tales version.
Cognition may also be impaired. “Recent correlational study suggested that content is an important mediator of the relation between exposure to television before age three and subsequent attentional problems” (Kirkorian, et al, 2008, p.7). Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), formerly known as Hyperkintetic Impulse Disorder, was officially recognized as a behavorial/mental disorder by the American Psychological Association (APA) in the 1960s. The number of children diagnosed with ADHD has steadily grown over the years. In the eighties, when this educator was a high school student, I had never heard of ADD or ADHD. By the early nineties, it was a common diagnosis among my kid’s peers. According to one study, 4.4 million children were diagnosed with ADHD in 2003, while the number grew to 6.1 million in 2016 (cdc.gov, 2013).
Thirdly, children are affected negatively from watching animated television (particularly those programs containing violence) in their emotional development. This type of television viewing causes a child to become desensitized and aggressive. This could also be true of seemingly harmless cartoons, but if the content continually promotes fighting, arguing, or disrespect, those same tendencies will be mimicked by preschoolers and young children. Without proper intervention, mild aggression can develop into more severe emotional distress.
Last of all, children are affected negatively from watching animated television in their behavioral development. “In a research study following 707 children over a 17-year period, early TV viewing is strongly linked to later aggressive behaviour, even when other contributing factors such as parental neglect, neighbourhood violence, and parental income were taken into consideration” (NDFAdmin, 2015). Preschoolers absorb the content of their surroundings. During these formative years, children mimic not only the behavior of those around them, but the behavior of those they view on a regular basis.
Does this mean that young children should not be allowed to watch cartoons? Absolutely not, although some say otherwise. What it does mean is that parents should care enough and take initiative and invest time in their children. Never should the television be allowed to babysit. Parents should sit down with their kids and watch cartoons with them, then discuss what they have viewed. They should also analyze the content and be very picky about what their child is allowed to watch. Limiting viewing time will also be beneficial. With quality time and wise choices, parents can insure that the negative effects of cartoon watching does not become an issue.
Ben-Joseph, Elana Pearl (2016). How media use affects your child. KIDS HEALTH. Retrieved from: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/tv-affects-child.html
Cdc.gov (2013). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. CENTERS FOR DISEAS CONTROL AND PREVENTION. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
Habib, Khaled & Tarek Soliman (2015). Cartoon’s effect in changing children mental response and behavior. OPEN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES. Retrieved from: https://file.scirp.org/pdf/JSS_2015092309544419.pdf
Harvard.edu (2018). Obesity prevention source. HARVARD T.H. CHAN: SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH. Retrieved from: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/television-and-sedentary-behavior-and-obesity/
Kirkorian, Heather L., et al (2008). Media and young children’s learning. PRINCETON.EDU. Retrieved from: https://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/18_01_03.pdf
NDFAdmin. (2015). Can television influence your child’s behavior? NOVAK DJOKOVIC FOUNDATION. Retrieved from: https://novakdjokovicfoundation.org/can-television-influence-your-childs-behaviour/