Fast-Paced Cartoons Could Slow Children’s Problem Solving and Executive Function

By Paul Nyhan, Birth to Thrive Online

It’s not just about curbing the amount of time young children spend in front of the TV that matters … but monitoring what they watch. In fact, when it comes to children’s television programs, it turns out some shows may slow the executive functions of preschoolers, researchers reported today.

A new study found that when a group of four-year-old kids watched “SpongeBob SquarePants,” a famous fast-paced cartoon on Nickelodeon designed for older children, for only nine minutes, they did worse on problem solving, self regulation and other tests of executive function than a control group who played with crayons and markers. What’s perhaps even more interesting is that children who watched “Caillou,” a slower-paced show on PBS designed for preschoolers, performed as well as the control group, according to the study published by Pediatrics today.

While researchers could not identify what factors of the cartoons affected executive functions, “they speculate the combination of fantastical events and the fast pacing are responsible. They conclude that parents should be aware that watching similar television shows may immediately impair young children’s executive function,” a summary of the research said.

It was a relatively small study of 60 four-year-olds, but it’s an important step in the effort to understand the impact of rapidly evolving digital media on children.

The research definitely holds lessons for the early learning community, since another study released two years ago found preschool-age children in home-based daycare watched, on average, 2.4 hours of TV a day, compared to those in centers who sat in front of a television 0.4 hours.

With all of this television watching at many child care providers, perhaps TV use should be part of the licensing process, suggests Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a leading researcher on the subject.

“Quite honestly I think it should be a part of licensing,” Dr. Christakis, head of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said during an interview.

Research has shown a high-quality early education can make a difference throughout a student’s lifetime, while “a low-quality education also makes a lifetime of difference,” Christakis said.

“…We know that the preschool brain is very much a work in progress,” Christakis added.

Check out Dr. Christakis’s commentary on “The Effects of Fast-Paced Cartoons.”

 

Kids With ADHD More Likely To Be Hit By Cars: Study

Catherine Pearson

Catherine.Pearson@huffingtonpost.com

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may be at greater risk for being hit by a car when crossing the street. A new study suggests that because of differences in their ability to perceive risk, children with ADHD may choose to cross the street when it is less safe, even if they follow safety protocol like checking both ways.

“They are looking,” explained Despina Stavrinos, assistant professor at the University of Alabama Birmingham’s Injury Control Center and the study’s lead author. “But they are failing to see. Just like distracted drivers, they are going through the motions, but they are not actually processing the risk.”

To better understand the potential dangers of street crossing, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham looked at 78 children, 39 of whom had ADHD-C — a subtype that includes both inattention as well as hyperactivity and impulsivity issues — and 39 of whom did not. The children were between 7 and 10, the age at which The American Academy of Pediatrics states it may be okay for children to be unsupervised pedestrians.

In a simulator that mimicked a typical street scene, the children were given 10 different street crossing scenarios. Researchers found that those with ADHD performed as well as non-ADHD participants in terms of looking both ways before crossing. However, when it came time to actually cross, those with ADHD picked smaller gaps in oncoming traffic, had more “close calls” and gave themselves less time to reach the other end of the crosswalk before traffic approached.

“We thought we might see that the kids with ADHD might not look left and right, but they are displaying that appropriate safety behavior,” Stavrinos said. “That points to an underlying mechanism in the executive functioning control center in the brain that affects processing so they can’t necessarily assess the risk.”

In 2009, a Canadian study gave several possibilities for why children with ADHD might have such difficulties, suggesting that they might overestimate their physical abilities when it comes time to weigh risks. That same study also found that children with ADHD might not have actually perceived any consequences for engaging in a risky behavior.

“What this suggests is that our typical programs that say, ‘You must do it this way,’ don’t work,” said Beth Bruce, Ph.D, of Dalhousie University, who wrote the Canadian study. “These studies — and there need to be more — suggest that there is a different way of processing,” she continued, adding that these issues are not necessarily unique to ADHD.

The potential implications of such risk-taking behavior are serious: According to the Centers for Disease Control, unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in children. And a growing body of scientific literature suggests that children with behavioral disorders, including ADHD, are more likely to suffer injury than those without the disorder.

So what can be done?

Parents of children with ADHD should increase supervision, said Dr. Steven Meyers, a professor of psychology at Roosevelt University and a Chicago-based clinical psychologist. He said that “over-practicing” of certain safety behaviors is essential, so that they become second-nature in children.

“It’s not an issue of not knowing what the right behaviors are,” he explained. “The impairment is largely in the area of impulsivity, of disregarding what they know.”

Pediatrician Dr. Alanna Levine added that observed crossing from afar can be a good way for parents to gradually gauge if their child is ready to make the appropriate decision, traffic-wise. She cautioned that the children in the University of Alabama at Birmingham study were not taking medication to treat their disorder at the time, adding that researchers are not yet clear as to what the impact of medication on risk-taking behaviors might be.

In the meantime, Stavrinos said that parents should be aware that differences in the executive functioning control center of the brain may mean their children need a street-crossing program that is unique to them.

“The biggest take-home message is that the things we do to teach about crossing safely may not be enough,” she said.

Nurture Shock: Chapter 8 – Can Self-Control Be Taught?

Thanks for joining me for the next chapter of Nurture Shock. Don’t forget to scroll down for this week’s recipe: Orange and Honey Chicken. Can self-control be taught? The authors begin by talking about the effectiveness of Driver’s Ed and the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. I have experience with both as a parent. Driver’s Ed is both necessary and beneficial, but not nearly as effective as the graduated driver’s license that delays the age at which teens can drive at night or with friends in the car. The D.A.R.E. program, however, was considered a joke among most of the kids. It did nothing to reduce drinking and drug use in our community so I wasn’t surprised when the funding was pulled. The authors are quick to point out that D.A.R.E. should not be singled out – of the 718 drug prevention programs receiving federal grants only 41 had a positive effect.

The remainder of this chapter is devoted to exploring the success of an emerging preschool and kindergarten program called Tools of the Mind. Aside from some additional training for teachers, this program does not cost a penny more than a traditional curriculum. After reading this chapter I think every parent should demand this program be implemented in their school. Here is a description of the program from the Tools of the Mind website:

Tools of the Mind is a research-based early childhood program that builds strong foundations for school success in preschool and kindergarten children by promoting their intentional and self-regulated learning. In a series of rigorous experimental trials, Tools of the Mind has been shown to have a significant impact on self-regulation of preschool children. The study also found these gains in self-regulation to be related to scores in child achievement in early literacy and mathematics.

If we could help children with self-control in preschool and kindergarten imagine how much better drivers they would be as teenagers! The part about this program that spoke to me was the fact that the students in the Tools of the Mind classrooms weren’t just better behaved –  they also were more self-directed and more self-organized. These are executive function skills, usually considered to be adult attributes. But executive function begins in preschool and the Tools program builds and strengthens those executive function skills. In one study the more a computer test demanded executive function skills the bigger the gap between the students in the Tools program versus those in a traditional classroom.

Another glowing benefit is motivation. Children who get to choose their own work as they do in the Tools program are more motivated and when children are more motivated they learn more. I wondered how this would work for my child with learning challenges. He was always very motivated when he was doing what he wanted to do, especially in preschool. His challenges came in Kindergarten when he was forced to sit and comply in a traditional classroom. We eventually moved him to a school that embraced the whole learner and he thrived. Not a specific Tools curriculum but one that accommodated for different learners. I am very grateful we had that option.

I’m curious – has anyone had direct experience with the Tools curriculum or been in a school that uses something similar? What about your child with learning differences? What kind of curriculum seems to work best with her learning strengths?

Next Week – Plays Well With Others

This Week’s RecipeORANGE AND HONEY CHICKEN

My sister sent this to me with rave reviews so I’m sharing it with the world – she’s a fabulous cook. Enjoy!

4 boneless chicken breasts
1 small onion  chopped
1-2 cloves garlic minced
1/2 cup chicken broth (reduced sodium)
1/2 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
1/2 cup orange juice
3 tbs. honey
4 tsp. cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce or Worcestershire
small pieces of fresh orange (up to 2 oranges)
low fat sour cream  1/2 cup (more or less)
fresh parsley – optional

Rinse and pat dry chicken
In a baking dish, add all ingredients – blend cornstarch in well to avoid lumps
Add chicken and cover
Cook 350 – 375 for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours (if too liquidy, remove cover)

Note: Recipe calls for cooking in a skillet – but it is easier baked in the oven.

Serve over rice with a veggie