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Turn off 'SpongeBob' for a change

Captain: Are you ready, kids?

Kids: Aye-aye, Captain.

Captain: I can't hear you ...

Kids: Aye-aye, Captain!

Captain: Oh! Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

Kids: SpongeBob SquarePants!

Captain: Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!

Kids: SpongeBob SquarePants!

Captain: If nautical nonsense is something you wish ...

Kids: SpongeBob SquarePants!

Captain: Then drop on the deck and flop like a fish!

Kids: SpongeBob SquarePants!

Captain: Ready?

Everybody: SpongeBob SquarePants! SpongeBob SquarePants! SpongeBob SquarePants!

Captain: SpongeBob ... SquarePants! Ha ha!

If you're now singing this theme song to the wildly popular kids' show on Nickelodeon, chances are your kids can sing it, too. That is if their brain isn't numb from all the fast-action and quick wit displayed by SpongeBob and his friends, or other frenetic shows aimed at kids.

On Monday, two researchers and a child development specialist revealed in the journal Pediatrics that such shows do seem to impair the mental functions of preschool children, making them less able to concentrate in school and be more impulsive.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a child development specialist at Seattle Children's Hospital, said fast-paced programming may not be appropriate for very young children.

"What kids watch matters, it's not just how much they watch," he wrote in an editorial to accompany the research.

None of this should surprise anyone.

How do young children, whose brains are in the early development stages, possibly absorb and process all that fast-paced action?

How can this sedentary behavior -- sometimes practiced for hours on end like a sort of baby sitter -- possibly be good for much of anything?

Young children learn by doing, by playing, by using their imagination. Parents should foster this kind of environment, and that means turning off the TV more often than not. If the TV is on, it should be tuned to programming that is able to be absorbed by young minds, and there is plenty of that out there, too.

The folks at Nickelodeon who show "SpongeBob" day and night say it was never intended for preschoolers, that it's aimed at children ages 6 to 11.

Maybe so, but kids will always aspire to watch shows older kids are watching. That's part of growing up.

Certainly over the years many habits have been demonized as contributing to the delinquency of minors. Not all of them were in fact that bad. We understand and appreciate that.

But we should want children to have every chance to succeed in life. If that means less noise and fast-paced action on the tube, we should be happy to comply.

"SpongeBob" certainly isn't the only culprit. It is only the most popular culprit of a certain variety of kids' programming.

So, the next time that familiar theme song pierces the quiet in your house, try turning off the TV and help turn the kid on to something different -- like reading.

You'll both be better for it.

-- The Forum