What ‘SpongeBob’ does to kids’ attention spans

The Takeaway

Story from The Takeaway. Listen to audio for full report.

For the past decade, “SpongeBob SquarePants” has been one of the most popular and highly rated kids shows on television. The show is funny, fast-paced, and could be ruining kids’ attention spans.

A new study from the University of Virginia found that viewing “SpongeBob Square Pants” immediately impaired attention spans among 4-year-olds. The show is aimed at 6- to 11-year-olds, but the results have some parents spooked.

The show is banned in the household of Jeanne Segar, a staff writer at CafeMom’s “The Stir,” but not because of the study. “I find it crass, I find it rude,” she says. “There’s a lot of name calling on it. The tone of voice that is used on there I really don’t want my kid picking up.” So her daughter isn’t allowed to watch it.

Parents shouldn’t, however, make that kind of decision based on the study, according to Segar. She says, “I think it really comes down to watching your own kid and seeing how your own kid reacts.”

“If you keep looking at all of these parenting studies every day a new one comes out,” she says, “you’ll drive yourself crazy if you try to feed into every single one.” A safety recall is one thing, but this study is different. Segar says, “There’s a difference between testing the actual chemistry of a child’s brain, and something a little more nebulous like their attention span – which really varies from kid to kid.”


“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.