Want organized, attentive kids? Limit the cartoons.

A new study finds more evidence that a diet of fast-paced cartoons may affect brain development in young children.

Courtesy yipDog Studios

We all want our kids to be organized. We want them to be able to plan, problem solve, pay attention to important details (when was the homework due?) and develop the discipline to forego those video games in order to study for that test.

Developing these critical mental tasks —  or “executive function” – is essential for kids to ultimately achieve those goals so they can take responsibility for handing in homework, studying for tests, keep a dentist appointment, or even meet a college deadline…and do it with minimal intervention from mom or dad.

Executive function, says child development expert Adele M. Brodkin, PhD., is what gets us down to business even when we’d rather just hang out.

A new study to be published in the October, 2011 issue of the journal Pediatrics, found that some fast-paced cartoons may affect the development of executive function in young children.

The study, “The Immediate Impact of Different Types of Television on Young Children’s Executive Function,” published online Sept. 12, tested 4-year-old children’s attention, problem-solving, self-regulation and other executive function abilities after they watched one of two cartoons for nine minutes.

The first group of children watched a fast-paced cartoon featuring an animated kitchen sponge. The second group of children watched a slower-paced, realistic Public Broadcasting Service cartoon about a typical preschool boy.

Researchers also gave a control group of children crayons and markers for free drawing for a pre-determined time period.

The children who had watched the fast-paced cartoon performed significantly worse on post-testing than did the group of children who were assigned to the drawing group.

But there was no difference in performance between the drawing group and the group that watched the slower-paced, realistic show about the preschool boy.

Study authors stated they cannot tell which features of the TV show created the effects, though they speculate the combination of fantastical events and fast pacing are responsible. 

They conclude that parents should be aware that watching similar television shows may affect development of executive function.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends limited television for children – and discourages it altogether for children under age 2.


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