So I might have had some time on my hands in these past couple weeks which lead  to my revisiting the cartoons I used to watch as a kid. I will just get off my chest that I was a Nickelodeon kid all the way.

This nostalgic tour down memory lane reminded me of a question I had a couple years back; “I wonder the difference between cartoons now and the cartoons I used to watch?”

Now, I am not going to beat a dead horse, cartoons have heavily influenced kids a number of different ways such as violence, sex, and behavior. These things have been researched for the past 50 years! My question is, how do cartoons affect children’s communication skills? 

Conversations with children

Have you ever paid attention to the conversations you have had with children? I have. Specifically children 5 to 11 or so. How do these conversations go for you? For me, the majority of them don’t seem to be following what I am saying and it is quite difficult for me to talk to them. 

Now, I understand that yes, these are children and conversations with them will be much different than conversations with adults. I understand this completely but the thing with my experience is that some children, I have great conversations with (keeping in mind that children’s communication skills are still developing) and other children seem to not know how to communicate. 

Some of these kids cannot look me in the eye and carry on a simple topic. Not only this, but these same kids seem to divert the conversation to the most random topic and bring themselves back to a slogan or phrase that seems to interest them. I wonder why? Then I started peeking into the cartoons that are now very popular and I think I have come closer to understanding this weird conundrum. 

Some cartoons are not good for communication development 

I am currently studying communication and organizational behavior for my undergrad and it is has been in my studies that I have really gained a curiosity in the communication development of children and the role of cartoons in this development. 

This curiosity might be stemmed from my own experience growing up. I was diagnosed with ASD as a child and had to undergo years of speech therapy to develop my own communication skills. I was very aware of how my ability to communicate was coming along and this may be why I remember the cartoons I watched so vividly.

I remember literally practicing the things I learned from these cartoons in real life to see the affects on how other people would understand me. Some things worked and other things didn’t.

I can tell you what didn’t work, and what will never work; the random outbursts of slogans or phrases used in these cartoons. Cartoons that are absent of quality dialogue are useless to children’s communication skills.  

Don’t get me wrong, I did not grow up in the perfect age of cartoons. Sponge Bob Square Pants was first introduced in my time for goodness sake. However, I do feel as if there were more options for communication enabling shows while I was growing up in relation to now. 

The science behind it

For sure, these are my opinions, and opinions usually carry more weight when gained from research. 

In a study done by Michigan University, it was concluded that children are more prone to absorb information from audio/visual means than by anything a teacher in the classroom can teach (1).

From the same study we learn the following:

  1. Children 2-5 years old watch cartoons 32 hours a week
  2. Children 6-11 years old watch cartoons 28 hours a week

That’s a lot of time children devote to something that research shows they absorb more information from than a teacher in a classroom. Granted, they spend more hours at school in a week but these are the ages where communication development is crucial. Having healthy conversations should be a skill learned early. Skills such as eye contact, staying on topic and reciprocity are some of the most crucial elements I believe children should practice and see be practiced. These skills further their opportunities monumentally. 

Who remembers Blues Clues? A study done by Alisha M. Crawley (2) on the show Blue’s Clues concluded that children who watched the show exemplified immediate improvement in their ability to recall information and solve problems. 

She later notes that the viewing of shows that focus on the application of principles to scenarios are a real advantage to the child viewing the show. Stating that children who watch educational programs have better grades then those who watch shows for mere entertainment. 

Now, I am not saying that cartoons that are educational can not be entertaining. I think they can be one of the same. Most the shows I remember as good examples of communication building programs, were also obviously funny.

Dimitri A. Christakis conducted a study that suggested this idea; it does not matter how much T.V. children watch, but rather, what they are watching. In the study it was concluded that fast paced cartoons negatively affect children’s cognitive ability to focus and or transition reasoning. (3)

The transition of reasoning is crucial to communicating. If a child does not understand the reason behind a conversation or the transitioning  of a dialogue, how can they reciprocate? 

Key components to communication developing cartoons

Notice that my research does not include studies specifically targeting the affect of children’s communication skills from cartoon consumption. I could not find a specific enough case. Although the principles from the above research still apply. If someone is to find a specific case study, I would love to see it! 

For me to personally consider a cartoon to be communication building it needs to have the following components: 

  1. Medium or even slow paced story line. Children need to work their way up to entertainment that is fast paced. Some cartoons transition from one scene to another without clear communication of why the transition happened. Maybe this is to be funny or what not. whatever the case may be, this could be the reason for random slogans or catch phrases children seem to yell out in conversations. 
  2. The intentions of the characters need to be explained vocally. One of my favorite examples of this concept is the show Recess. I grew up watching Recess and the characters in the cartoon are quick to vocally explain their intentions in relation to other characters or the story line. Plus, the show is extremely funny. I feel like this is important so the child can hear the reasoning behind why the characters are doing certain things and can then apply the same cognitive reasoning to their own everyday intentions.
  3. The story of each episode needs to have the classic beginning, arch, and ending. There are some cartoons that begin the episode in such a random happening that from there the story is hard to keep up with, there is no arch or climax and the episode never seemed to have had an ending. I feel like these elements are important to a cartoon so the child can understand dynamics of stories and how they are communicated. Communication often has the same implications, there is a beginning to a conversation, an arch (or climax of an interesting topic) and an end.

The following are some of my favorite cartoons that exemplify these 3 components and have taught me how to communicate as a child:

  • Recess
  • Arthur
  • Doug
  • Rugrats – I know, I know, but watch it again and tell me those babies aren’t good at communicating.
  • Wild Thornberries
  • Hey Arnold
  • Rocket Power

Told you I was a Nickelodeon kid. 

The best form of learning

We can talk about the best cartoons for communication skill building forever, but at the end of the day, the best way to teach a child how to communicate is to talk to them!

Cartoon consumption plays a big role in communication skills among children but what can play an even bigger role is continuous conversation. If they take part in healthy discussion on a daily basis, then I am sure they will adapt to it. 

Conclusion

Well, I am no professional, just an every day thinker that is taking advantage of the world of blogging to share how I feel about certain topics. Which might be annoying to some people, I mean hell, I am sometimes annoyed by this tool we each have at our fingertips that might suggest we are an expert at whatever topic is being discussed. Rest assured that I am aware of any faults in my argument and am open to conversation or opinion on this topic as it is a topic that I have only recently realized the importance of and how it stands with me. I feel like my own experience with dealing with ASD and having to learn these skills could be a part of my own awareness of the topic. 

Sources

(1) http://file.scirp.org/pdf/JSS_2015092309544419.pdf

(2) https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Daniel_Anderson7/publication/232578269_Effects_of_Repeated_Exposures_to_a_Single_Episode_of_the_Television_Program_Blue%27s_Clues_on_the_Viewing_Behaviors_and_Comprehension_of_Preschool_Children/links/00463530b6aff3bff6000000/Effects-of-Repeated-Exposures-to-a-Single-Episode-of-the-Television-Program-Blues-Clues-on-the-Viewing-Behaviors-and-Comprehension-of-Preschool-Children.pdf

(3) http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/4/772.full