Why You Should Keep an Eye on Your Anxious Child’s Cartoons

cartoon violenceCartoons are certainly colorful and presented as fun, but they can be packed with as much violence as a fully loaded automatic. As noted in our post on What TV Violence Does to Your Anxious Child’s Brain, exposure to TV violence of any sort typically leads to three main outcomes, none of which are pretty. Additional studies have shown cartoon violence can lead to sleep problems in young children as well as belligerence, defiance and other detrimental behaviors.

In other words, the next time your anxious child rolls his eyes, sticks out his tongue at you or tosses and turns all night screaming for help, you may be able to thank his or her cartoons.

The Ugly Trio of Effects of TV Violence

Loads of studies concerning TV violence pretty much agree on a trio of undesirable outcomes. TV violence can lead children into:

  • Aggression and imitation
  • Desensitization and callousness
  • Fear and warped world view

The Mimicking of Behavior

The eye-rolling and other belligerent, disrespectful or undesirable behavior falls into the imitation category. Children may be apt to imitate not only the violence they see in cartoons, but they can pick up on unattractive behaviors displayed by the characters. This includes taking what they learned to the classroom, particularly when it comes to copying verbal aggression they saw on TV.

The study that shed light on that fact came out of Iowa State University and was published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. It additionally found:

  • TV shows aimed at children had higher levels of physical aggression than TV shows aimed at general audiences
  • The TV industry treats animated violence and non-animated violence differently, appearing to rate animated violence less harmful to children

The Sleep Problems

A study published in Pediatrics checked out the negative effect violent cartoons had on children ages 3 to 5, and the effect was poor sleeping habits. Sleep disturbances were much more likely to hit children who watched violent cartoons, especially compared to children whose cartoon viewing included less violent animated shows.

The study, which came out of the University of Washington, examined the effects of violent and non-violent cartoons on 500 families in the Seattle area. Researchers split the group in half and had half switch to less violent and more educational type cartoons. When assessed after six months, 12 months and 18 months, children exposed to the less violent cartoons were sleeping better than their violent-cartoon-watching counterparts.

As noted in Parents Guide to Night Terrors, scary movies, gory shows and yes, violent cartoons, can also contribute to nightmares, although they are typically not the cause of terrors.

Cartoons Noted for Violent Content

  • Scooby Doo made the top of the list for being noted in several articles about cartoon violence.
  • Bugs Bunny and the entire Looney Tunes crew was cited for characters that consistently “slap each other around”
  • Sponge Bob was cited as negatively affecting children in a Huffington Post article about a study published in Pediatrics
  • Pokemon got a nod for violent content in an article in the UK’s Daily Mail
  • Action shows like Teen Titans, Might Morphin Power Rangers and Shaman King contain “hard violence” with sword fights, gun wars and laser beam battles, according to an AP story. Shaman King got extra credit for a sword fight that ended with the victor reaching into the dying body of the loser and pulling out his soul.
  • Ren and Stimpy is on the list of inappropriate cartoons for kids from blogger Dashiell Driscoll. He writes: “If you’re going to try and explain this show to kids, first you need to teach them what an acid trip is. Then you need to teach them what a bad acid trip is. Then you need to explain what too many bad acid trips will do to your brain: make you a successful animator.”
  • Batman’s animated series is also on Driscoll’s inappropriate-for-kids list, with scene examples that include the Joker trying to kill three people on live TV on Christmas Eve.

Cartoons that Can Have a Positive Effect

Not all colorful, animated things are evil, the Pediatrics study noted. Some cartoons may actually have a positive effect on your child. The Psychology Today article noted these include:

  • Sesame Street
  • Dora the Explorer
  • Curious George

Shows that have an educational focus or are what Psychology Today calls “pro-social” are on the list of cartoons that can actually have a positive influence. Note such cartoons have minimal, if any, recurring episodes of violence. And the pro-social buzzword means that they promote behaviors meant to benefit other people.

While this may hold true in the overall scope, it must also be noted that Oscar the Grouch still lives in a trash can and Curious George is notorious for his mischievous antics, or at least that was the case in his series of widely read children’s books.

What Parents Can Do

Monitoring your anxious child’s cartoon viewing tops the list of ways to ensure your child has minimal exposure. Since you already learned that animated violence gets more lenient ratings than non-animated violence and shows geared toward children typically has higher levels of violence than general-audience shows, relying on the ratings of others may not cut it.

Promote – and enjoy! – non-TV time. Television is over-rated.. Books, blocks or even some free time outdoors in nature can spark the imagination and fuel the soul much deeper and more positively than a TV screen ever could.

If TV must be a part of you and your anxious child’s life, create a schedule that allows only approved shows on approved days. Shut of the TV during dinner, homework or when people visit so you all can focus on each other instead of yet another sword fight, bloody newscast or other violent animated or non-animated scene streaming from the monitor.


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