Yesterday, children’s broadcaster Nickelodeon made a startling admission: its hit show SpongeBob SquarePants—whose star is featured on countless products designed for toddlers and preschoolers—is not intended for children under six.
Nickelodeon was responding to a brand new study that found that watching the fast-paced SpongeBob SquarePants has a negative influence on preschoolers' executive function. Children who watched nine minutes of the show scored significantly worse on assessments designed to measure memory and self control than children who watched a slower-paced cartoon or kids who spent nine minutes drawing. Nickelodeon now claims that SpongeBob is “expressly designed to entertain 6-to-11-year-olds,” not preschoolers.
But if SpongeBob isn’t for children under six, Nickelodeon needs to stop recruiting preschool viewers by targeting them with SpongeBob merchandise and fast food promotions. So please take a moment and tell Nickelodeon: Stop marketing SpongeBob to preschoolers.
For years, SpongeBob has consistently been a top-rated show for very young children. Given that stores like Target and Kmart are awash in SpongeBob sippy cups, toddler bedding, and clothes, and that McDonald’s promotes the show through Happy Meals, it’s not surprising that many parents would mistake it for a preschool show. Nickelodeon's marketing of SpongeBob sends a confusing message to parents and increases the chances that young children will watch a show that is intended for older children, and, as we now know, may impair a preschooler's ability to focus and to delay gratification.
Now that Nickelodeon has decided to come clean, the company should practice what it preaches. So let’s tell Nick: it’s time to shelve the SpongeBob toddler and preschool merchandise.