Kids + TV: What They Watch Does Matter

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Image source: khrawlings

Spongebob Squarepants is not good for your 4-year-old’s brain – at least that’s what a new study from the University of Virginia says.

Researchers divided sixty 4-year-olds into three groups. The first group watched a 9-minute clip of Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants, the second watched a 9-minute clip of PBS’s Caillou, and the third group drew pictures for nine minutes instead of watching television.

When the nine minutes was up, each group was tested in what psychologists call “executive function.” The results? The group that watched the slower-paced and more educational show Calliou as well as the picture-drawing groups performed equally well while the SpongeBob group scored significantly lower.

“SpongeBob is produced for 6- to 11-year-olds. Four-year-olds are clearly not the intended demographic for this show,” Nickelodeon spokesman David Bittler said in response to the study results.

(Read more about the study: HERE.)

As for me, I felt kind of guilty for all the Spongebob Squarepants I’ve let my children watch when I saw the study – but both my boys are honor roll students, and now that I think about it, I was much more selective in what they watched on TV as preschoolers, being careful to choose only age appropriate shows which I felt were educational and also limiting the amount of time they watched. (They’re currently ages 13 and 9 and I’ve obviously relaxed the rules slightly as they’ve gotten older.)

Choosing slower-paced, more realistic and educational programming for young children is important. Limiting the amount they watch, and creating dialogue about what is on the screen by watching with them is also encouraged. This is particularly true if you’re using television to expose your children to Spanish (or any other second language). While there’s not a lot of quality children programming for bilingual children, we’re lucky to have a variety of options. For some samples of those, you might want to check our Video of the Week category.

We recently had the opportunity to talk about the study and healthy TV watching habits for children with Lesli Rotenberg, VP of Children’s Media at PBS. Below is that interview.

SpanglishBaby: When parents pick a television show for their children to watch, what ideally should they be looking for?

Lesli Rotenberg: At PBS KIDS, we believe that the best shows for kids are educational and entertaining, as well as developmentally appropriate, so those are definitely important elements for parents to look for. We also always want to make sure that the characters in a series are positive role models – trusted guides for kids to look up to and to encourage them to learn and grow.

We have great tips and strategies to help parents make healthy media choices for their kids – from selecting appropriate and educational TV programs, to making the most of your child’s screen time – all available on

SB: What qualities do shows that benefit children have?

LR: Parents should look for educational programs that are appropriate for their child’s age and stage of development. Also, it’s important for programs to be research-based and grounded in a solid curriculum that supports learning.

SB: Which shows does PBS have currently in their programming for children which you’re most proud of for their educational value?

LR: We’re proud of all our shows for their educational value and their ability to encourage kids to explore the world around them. For example, SUPER WHY! is a series proven to help children build early reading skills. We also have a number of properties that focus on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – skills, including CURIOUS GEORGE, THE CAT IN THE HAT KNOWS A LOT ABOUT THAT!, SESAME STREET and DINOSAUR TRAIN.

Parents can find information on all of our series, along with the curricular basis for each and supporting educational activities, on

SB: What new shows are you working on?

LR: We’re very excited for our new DANIEL TIGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD series that will be airing starting next fall! It is a new preschool media property that is inspired by the character Daniel Striped Tiger from the classic PBS series MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. The series is designed to help kids build the skills they need to be prepared for success in school – from cooperation and listening to handling emotions such as disappointment and anger.

We’re also in the pilot phase of several properties focused on math for preschoolers and early elementary kids.

SB: What are the educational standards PBS KIDS abides by when selecting new programming for kids and how are these taken off-screen?

LR: We take a research-based approach to selecting programming that will not only educate kids, but also really engage them with lovable characters and great storylines. In addition, much of our content is mapped to curriculum frameworks, which we develop to align with current teaching standards. A great example of how extensively we research the educational value of our content is the work we did on several of our literacy series using a Ready To Learn grant from the U.S. Department of Education; you can learn more about this particular project on our website.

We see technology platforms as a new way to deliver educational content. Online, is the go-to location for kids and parents, with a monthly average of 9.3 million unique visitors. And our PBS KIDS mobile apps have been downloaded over 1 million times. We make sure that we offer the highest quality children’s media content across platforms so that kids can interact with their favorite characters wherever they are, and so that anytime can be a learning time.

Off-screen, we have many educational activities based on our show content for kids and parents and teachers to do at home, school or daycare.

SB: How does your children’s programming help support bilingual learners?

LR: As you know, we recently introduced a new web series called NOAH COMPRENDE that introduces children to the Spanish vocabulary as well as simple Spanish phrases. We also just launched the new Little Pim Spanish iPhone app, which introduces children to 60 different Spanish vocabulary words. And we have extensive Spanish language resources for parents.

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