Parents should not tune out when it comes to cartoons
It can be very tempting for even the most diligent of parents to sit their children in front of cartoons and get on with the workload of a busy home.
Do this all the time, though, and you may be losing out on a great chance to spend quality time with your kids, and play an important role in their mental development, says Micheline G Habib, a Dubai-based educational advisor and author of children’s books.
She says dumping the kids in front of the TV to watch cartoons is a missed opportunity for bonding. “You need to think about watching cartoons with your child,” adds Habib.
“It will help children to communicate and will also help parents understand when the child comes and says, ‘Mummy, Ben 10 did this’.”
According to a study published in the Journal of Education and Human Development “humour works in terms of maintaining effectively open and highly communicative relationships with children during pre-adolescence, adolescence and long after”, so cartoons could be a perfect vehicle for that.
However, as there is no formal watershed in the UAE, it
is dangerous if parents are not fully aware what their children are watching, Habib says.
“When we are looking at a movie or a cartoon or clip, it is like when we are evaluating a book,” she adds.
“If I go to the bookshop and I want to buy a book for my child I will look at everything - the illustrations, the content, the cartoons. I will ask ‘Does it fit?’ You need to the same thing with TV and what they are watching.”
The cartoon industry has taken a bashing for including negative issues, including aggression, in their shows but that’s unfair says Adam Khwaja, creative director at Cartoon Network’s Studios Arabia.
He feels that as long as negative issues are shown in the correct context, their inclusion can actually help a child deal with challenging concepts. Citing the choice to use an obese child in a cartoon, he says: “Fast-food exists, this is all part of our world so avoiding it isn’t the best way to deal with it.
“The better way to deal with it is to reflect elements of reality then show intelligently what the consequences of those realities are. Kids generally respond better to dealing with that than just being told ‘do not eat junk food’.
“Kids are very savvy, when you show a world that does not reflect reality in any way, they pick up on that and become cynical. Context is key.” Studies have also suggested that children are intellectually stimulated when they’re amused, in which case, good cartoons could actually pave the way for learning as well as communication.
This was something Khwaja emphasised during a recent discussion in Dubai about laughter and learning. The fantasy world of cartoons can spark a child’s imagination, he says.
“It plants a question in the mind very subtly and a lot of research suggests that it actually creates intelligence because your brain is really alive when you are in a slightly unpredictable place,” says Khwaja.
“That is part of the fun and the appeal.” So when kids are grappling with the abstract world of a talking sponge who wears pants and lives in a pineapple, their subconscious is throwing up all sorts of questions helping to develop their perspective of the world.
However, even Khwaja would admit that too many cartoons can be bad for kids. While his network’s cartoon shows have educational elements, he believes there’s not enough educational programming available in this region.
“I’d say that all the public service broadcasters should do more [educational programming]. There is Al Jazeera Kids but there is not enough being done.” He added his children watch documentaries for the education he would expect to get on children’s channels.