Is The Cartoon “Arthur” Teaching Your Child To Behave Badly?
Children’s movies and TV programs often show their characters behaving badly, in order to teach children a lesson at the end of the program. But young children watching these shows may pick up on the bad behavior without connecting it to the intended moral, finds a study in the latest issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. The news service ScienceDaily reports:
“‘Children who spent more time watching educational programs increased their relational aggression toward other children over initial levels,’ says Douglas Gentile, a professor of psychology at Iowa State University. Since children between the ages of 2 and 5 do not typically understand the plot of shows, Gentile said they do not know how the beginning of a story relates to the end.
‘Even though educational shows like Arthur have pro-education and pro-social goals, conflict between characters is often depicted with characters being unkind to each other or using relational aggressive tactics with each other,’ Gentile said. ‘Preschool children really don’t get the moral of the story because that requires that they understand how all the parts of the show fit together. You need pretty complicated cognitive skills and memory skills to be able to do that, which are still developing in young children.'”
Gentile suggests that mothers and fathers help make sure their children understand the intended message: “Parents can watch with their kids and help them to understand the plot. Parents can comment along the way and then explain the message at the end. They explain how the insulting behavior or the ignoring behavior was not appropriate. This will help children interpret and get the message and help them learn to watch it for those messages,’ Gentile said.” (Read more here.)
It makes sense that very young children may not be able to put the pieces of a show together in the way the program’s creators intend (even if the moral seems head-thumpingly obvious to adult viewers). This is more evidence that it’s important not only to choose your children’s media carefully, but to be sure to talk about it with them during and after they watch it.
Have you ever noticed a child picking up negative behavior from a program intended to impart a positive lesson?