Saturday Mornings Are Not The Same

When thinking of childhood memories, most people can recall sitting in front of the television on a Saturday morning watching cartoons. While still wearing pajamas and eating a bowl of cereal, children across the country have made watching The Flintstones, Hello Kitty, and many other cartoons a ritual for decades. As time passed, cartoons were incorporated into daily programming and even invaded prime time television. What used to be reserved for Saturday mornings is now part of a daily routine. This increase in the accessibility of animated entertainment can be an enjoyable, wholesome family experience. Television programs such as Sesame Street can provide children with learning opportunities. Cartoons such as Franklin or Little Bear contain lessons about social skills. Cartoons can be magical, filled with stories of princesses and talking animals. However, because cartoons are comprised of false realities, parents have a responsibility to carefully choose which cartoons their children watch.

Children do not possess the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality until late childhood (Kirsh, 2006). The result is that some cartoons can be harmful, especially if the child is watching them for long periods of time. Not every cartoon is as beneficial as Sesame Street or Little Bear. Children like to imitate what they see and when cartoon characters exhibit undesirable or unsafe behaviors, children can imitate those same behaviors. Cartoons such as Loony Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Batman, and many others mislead children about the consequences of violence. Cartoons show violent acts such as gunshots, but not the true consequences. In the world of animation, characters constantly survive bombs, falls, explosions, and other violent acts, but consistently walk away unharmed.

Dual priming can take place when the violence is coupled with humor (Kirsh, 2006). Watching an act of violence in a cartoon, and seeing that act portrayed as humorous makes children process the act as less violent. This is especially true of younger children because they may perceive morality as a result of the consequence of the act, instead of the harmful intent by the perpetrator of the act (Kirsh, 2006). Some research indicates that camouflaging violence with humor reduces the negative effects on aggressive behavior, but may still increase thoughts of aggression (Kirsh, 2006). Other research shows that there is a connection between watching violent television programs and aggressive attitudes and behaviors (Nathanson and Cantor, 2000).

When children confuse reality with fantasy, tragedy can strike. A ten year old boy from Washington suffocated in a sandbox after he and his friends attempted to re-enact a scene from the Japanese animated show, Naruto (Surette, 2008). The problem is not limited to the United States. A nine year old Saudi boy was killed by an iron skewer when he and another boy tried to imitate a fight from a cartoon (Emirates 24/7 News, 2012). In China, a six year old boy jumped from a six-story window because he believed he could fly like his favorite cartoon character (GB Times, 2014). Another Chinese incident resulted in two brothers being badly burned when another boy tied them to a tree. The boy set the brothers on fire because the three were recreating a scene from the Chinese cartoon, Xi Yangyang and Hui Tailang (BBC News, 2013).

To lessen the impact of comedic violence, research has shown that active mediation, focusing on the negative impact of the violent act, reduces the child’s view of violence as being humorous (Kirsh, 2006). Research has also shown that active mediation provides children with a better understanding of the difference between the real world and fantasy (Nathanson & Cantor, 2000). A problem of active mediation is the unintended effect of reduced enjoyment of the program (Nathanson & Cantor, 2000). By encouraging children to consider the feelings of a victim of violence, the program becomes less fun to watch. Although this may be a negative effect from a child’s point of view, the effect is positive for parents because the reduction of negative attitudes and behaviors due to cartoon violence is the goal. Although this type of tragedy is not the norm, losing even one child is unacceptable, especially if it is preventable.


Chinese tv cartoon blamed for child injuries. (2013, December 19). Retrieved from:

Boy jumps from 6th floor while imitating flying superhero. (2014, January 10). GB Times. Retrieved from:

Kid killed in fake fight after watching cartoon. (2012, January 10).Emirates 24/7 News. Retrieved from:

Kirsh, S. (2006). Aggression and violent behavior. Science Direct, 6. 547-557.

Nathanson, A., & Cantor, J. (2000). Reducing the aggression-promoting effect of violent cartoons by increasing children’s fictional involvement with the victim: a study of active mediation. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 1. 125-142.

Surette, T. (2008). Boy dies after friends imitate Naruto. Retrieved from:


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  10. Excellent post. This blossoming age of media is constantly criticized for various negative aspects however, many individuals forget how important and helpful media can be. You mention several educational television shows targeted for children. These shows teach social skills, morals, values, life lessons and can be used to enhance learning. Media can be used as a positive reinforcement tool rather than an excuse to keep a child occupied. Rice, Huston, Truglio and Wright (1990) studied the effects of Sesame Street on children ages three to five. Their research revealed a positive relationship between viewing Sesame Street and learning and enhancing vocabulary (Rice et al., 1990). Shows such as Sesame Street are presented in a manner that is conducive to learning and therefore, are positive influences for children.

    However, children are malleable creatures and thus, care must be taken to ensure they are being exposed to positive role models on the television. In his social cognitive theory, Bandura (1986; 2009) explains that individuals learn primarily through the media. Bandura (1986;2009) outlines four steps of learning: attention, representational process, production process and motivational process (p. 142). The media therefore, serves as the perfect medium to learn. Through cartoons, children are paying attention to the behavior of others, remembering these behaviors through repeated exposure, learning how to imitate the behaviors and using the behaviors that serve as positive reinforcement. For example, in Tom and Jerry, children see the behaviors that Jerry Mouse is using in order to trick Tom Cat. These behaviors are interesting and attractive to children, make them laugh and result in Jerry Mouse getting what he wants in every single episode. Thus, positively reinforcing the behavior and making it a desirable behavior to imitate.

    Furthermore, children have not yet developed the ability to differentiate fantasy and reality nor the true consequences of one’s actions (Kirsh, 2006). These factors should be considered when choosing what type of shows to expose children to. Kirsh (2006) makes a very interesting point regarding dual priming and using humor to camouflage violence and aggression. While research shows mixed reports of the effects of this form of dual priming, parents can take a preventative stance and explain to children what they are watching to breakdown the barrier of misunderstanding.

    It is heartbreaking hearing tragedy stories such as the stories you presented. Active mediation is an excellent intervention to prevent further tragedies from occurring. Nathanson and Cantor (2000) mentioned that active mediation and effective communication can decrease the enjoyment of a show however, this is a small price to pay. Parents can learn ways to explain a cartoon in creative ways that help the child understand the reality but still find enjoyment in both the cartoon and the parent’s explanation. The ultimate goal is preventing tragic accidents from recreating cartoons, feelings of invincibility and desensitization.


    Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood, Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Bandura, A. (2009). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. In J. Bryant & M. Oliver (Eds), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

    Kirsh, S. (2006). Aggression and violent behavior. Science Direct, 6. 547-557.

    Rice, M., Huston, A., Truglio, R., & Wright, J. (1990). Words from “Sesame Street”: Learning vocabulary while viewing. Developmental Psychology, 26(3), 421-428.

  11. Asher Rodriguez

    Saturday mornings were a great time to unwind. Like you, I too remember sitting down with my bowl of cereal and watching all of the latest cartoons. I remember watching Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry and with my adult mind the violent behavior now seems clear and overt, but when I was younger it just seemed like entertainment.

    Countless studies have shown just how dangerous repeated exposure to violent media can be; longitudinal, experimental, and quasi-experimental studies have all stated there is a link between these two variables. (Ewoldsen and Roskos, 2012, p. 139) It’s worth noting there can be many reasons or causes of aggressive behavior and that’s because aggressive behavior is overdetermined. (Ewoldsen and Roskos, p 140, 2006) Social environment, aggressiveness of the individual, age and gender can cause an individual’s propensity for violence.

    However, there is also the startling statistic that, “two thirds of all children’s programs contain violence.” (Ewoldsen and Roskos, 2012, p. 138) With this violent content permeating so many forms of media it’s important to touch on the short-term and long-term effects of exposure to violent media. (Husemann and Taylor, 2006, p. 405)

    Short terms effects to violent content can be linked to our priming processes, excitation, and modeling of the aggressive behavior. (Husemann and Taylor, 2006, p. 401) Priming is the process of which “external stimuli excites the brain’s neural network that is linked to behavior, cognition, or emotion. (Husemann and Taylor, 2006, p. 401) A stimuli is more likely to prime an individual to engage in violent behavior if the stimuli is inherently linked to aggression, e.g., seeing a gun used a tv show. (Husemann and Taylor, 2006, p. 401)

    Another possible explanation for the influence of mass media’s violent content would be the extent to which the imagery arouses the viewer. (Husemann and Taylor, 2006, p. 401) Arousal can occur if the stimulus evokes an emotional response, which is commonly referred to as excitation transfer. (Husemann and Taylor, 2006, p. 401) An example of this would be viewing a cartoon character shooting another character. The arousal state in an individual after watching this cartoon could cause the individual to immediately engage in aggressive behavior.

    The prolonged effects of watching this content have more to do with desentization, cognition, and behaviors. (Husemann and Taylor, 2006, p. 401) The constant exposure to this kind of media can lead to socialization. Behaviors can become normative after constant exposure to characters being rewarded or evading discipline for their actions. Like some of my classmates have stated, the only way to prevent this from happening is proactive parenting. Limiting a child’s viewership and having discussions with them can help prevent or deter kids from engaging in violent behavior.

    Huesmann, L. R., & Taylor, L. D. (2006). The Role Of Media Violence In Violent Behavior. Annual Review of Public Health,27(1), 393-415.

    Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2005). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE Publications.

  12. My reply is somewhat a reply to everyone who has posted on this particular thread. I am not going to refute the evidence supplied of the children who have died or been harmed as a result of watching cartoons because these do and will continue to take place. However, I would like to comment on the presence of violence in Disney movies and in the school system. I too grew up watching Sesame Street (it drove my mother crazy that I watched it multiple times a day), The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Looney Tunes, and your typical late 80s early 90s cartoons. I also grew up watching Disney movies. In nearly every Disney movie you can pinpoint a scene(s) that depicts behavior that can be deemed inappropriate for the child viewer. Women who have grandiose dreams of being swept off their feet by an Alpha male whom take them from their poverty stricken life into a life of decadence and royalty (Cinderella), parents of animals dying or being separated from family members (Bambi; Lion King), evil witches manipulating the weak to further their twisted goals (Little Mermaid), in order to gain superiority or success someone may need to die (Lion King), being OK with the fact that your male partner may treat you poorly as long as he has a good heart and good intentions (Beauty and the Beast), poisoning someone to further your own motives (Snow White)…the list goes on and on. And while I personally have let my daughter watch all of these movies, and while I also feel that it is up to parental discretion as to what a parent allows their child to watch, as mentioned in the original post, the responsibility here lies with the parents to teach their children that television is fiction portrayed in color and is meant to be for entertainment purposes only. I hardly see the correlation with SpongeBob as being inappropriate and personally feel as though parental energy – though typically filled with good intentions – is often times misdirected.

    From my experience, with a 10 year old daughter and a 14 year old step-daughter, violent acts occurs much more often in the school system than on television, and it is more often than not the cases of inappropriate behavior that is experienced within the school system that is the most harmful to children. Like I said, yes, both of my girls have seen all of the Disney movies, my youngest grew up on SpongeBob and Dora, but now likes to watch the MTV show Ridiculousness with us. But I have explicitly stated, on many occasions that this is TV and is no way to be repeated in life. I take an active role in my daughter’s life and for that reason, it is less important what type of entertainment she chooses to partake in. Now would I let her watch Breaking Bad or shows like that, of course not; there is a limit. But, as I mentioned, she used to come home with stories of children’s behavior that would make my head spin because they were so unbelievable and deplorable in nature. The things that occur in public schools are real life, nonfictional occurrences that cannot be explained away so easily, and that is the reason I now homeschool my daughter. My point here is that parents, while wanting the best for their children, sometimes get caught up in what they feel is inappropriate, when often the very thing that they feel if the most beneficial can actually be causing the worse harm of all – school. My daughter is not your typical case – I get that. She is 10 years old in 8th grade and excels; is often called brilliant. She is mild mannered and respectful, yet imaginative. And she watches programs that are rated above her age level. She sees things on television that is full of idiocracy, violence, and carelessness, but as I continue to be involved in her upbringing, she has learned right from wrong and real from fantasy. The last paragraph in the original post Saturday Mornings Are Not the Same sum my point up nicely.

    Are there cartoons out there that depict violence? Yes. Are there programs unsuited for children? Yes. Do parents who prevent their children from watching public television still allow their children to watch Disney movies who depict that same behavior? Many do. Do these same parents send their children off to school with the hopes that they will be safe? Yes. It is not advantageous to compartmentalize our children’s exposure to violence; violence is violence. Countless studies have been done on the negative effects of peer pressure, some we have learned about in this class and others. I am not telling parents to pull their kids out of school, I am simply saying that while media can have an influence on the ways in which our children behave, we as parents, combined with our children’s peers have a much greater influence on their behavior than Saturday morning cartoons.

  13. Keli Elaine Barnes

    Although I am young and never really experienced the Saturday morning cartoon time period, I have heard people talking about it. I find it interesting that when this time period took place kids were not out reenacting cartoons but now that cartoons are in kids daily lives they do reenact them. I wonder children were only watching violent cartoons one morning a week would it make any difference in their knowledge of reality vs. fantasy.
    Being a mother of a 3 year old I find a lot of the cartoons she watches very beneficial in her learning. Cartoons teach a variety of things from colors and numbers to emotions and everything between. I do see the fact that there are times she does not grasp that it is a cartoon and certain things do not happen in real life like they do in cartoons. For instance, in Diego he gets to interact with a lot of different animals but they are never harmful so I now have a 3 year old that believes she can go pet the lions at the zoo without getting hurt.
    Children do not realize that what they see in tv, movies, and video games are not always a way of life. I was just watching a show yesterday about a medium that channeled a young girl who hung herself and her parents were wondering why she did it because she never showed signs of depression or being unhappy. He response to her parents was that it was a stupid idea that she should have never done and she did not really think she was going to die from it. I bring this up not to debate on if they are real but to state that if they are real and that really was what happened where did she learn this from? There is a chance she could have got the idea off of tv and not realized that the consequences were going to actually be death.
    I believe that it’s the job of the parent to help the child learn from tv. It is a good idea like stated to tell them the negatives about a show while letting them accept the positives. Whether or not the child likes it parents have to do this in order to instill in their kids knowledge about reality and fantasy. This will prevent dangerous things from happening.

  14. Rebekah Christina Smith

    I agree with your statement that cartoons can be harmful. I never thought about the reasoning behind having humor with violent acts. I remember watching Road Runner and Wiley Coyote while thinking to myself why does the coyote constantly want to get hurt. Meanwhile I am watching and laughing hysterically. I think the humor behind it was good because I didn’t want to go out and try the violent act that took place. I think the new popular Japanese cartoons are coupled with video games that children play. These cartoons are very serious in nature and there aren’t any humor aspects to it.
    While children spend hours watching cartoons, they are continuing their stimulation by playing violent video games. According to a study published for the New York Times, those who develop a gaming habit can become slightly more aggressive. (Carey, 2013) Furthermore, he adds that students are more hostile and try to force things onto others while in a laboratory setting.
    Some ways to help mitigate these violent tendencies and aggressive behavior would be to limit the amount of violence children watch. It will be beneficial for students to realize that violent behavior isn’t culturally acceptable, even though it has been accepted in the media.

    Carey, Benedict. (2013) Shooting in the Dark. Published in the New York Times. Retrieved from

  15. Gretchen M Baker

    Wow, I loved reading this blog for many reasons. First of all, I talk about this all the time. The “good ole days” when Saturday morning cartoons were what we all used to watch and it felt almost like a special event or a privilege to have this “ritual.” I am sure this shows my age, but cartoons which I always watched included The Jetsons, the Smurfs, The Littles and The Flintstones as well. It really was wholesome television which provided limited education in my opinion. Now, I have a 3 and 4 year old and can name the very popular characters and theme songs for each and many of them have very educational lessons or learning which I appreciate and probably couldn’t teach them as well as some of these cartons do. When my two children were first in my care (they couldn’t even speak) and the songs and learning that was involved helped my children to catch up cognitively, to a certain degree. Cartoons such as Umizoomi help children to identify colors, shapes “Super shapes” and numbers in a fun way. Dora teaches children a limited availability of everyday Spanish words and it makes a child remember cognitively orders of simple operations. Little Bill teaches them everyday lessons like being kind, sharing, having an imagination and young children’s abilities to laugh and be silly such as when Little Bill and his friends play rocket ship. There are some comprises which are made when there is unlimited availability. What do you think? Do you think we should let our children watch whatever they want because we think it won’t affect them? I think every parent should sit in on a class with young children and see how much they “mock” or act out what they just saw. Take for example a little 9 year old, Derek who died when he was “rough-housing” with a 16 year old boy who weighed 225 pounds, almost four times heavier than little Derek ( Pro, 2013).Derek loved to watch wrestling and thought it was alright to get tossed around like the pro-wrestlers who are trained professionals. While the World Wrestling Federation hasn’t been blamed for what happened, once again imitation is the reason that this 65 pound boy thought he could wrestle someone much bigger than himself.
    To be honest, I don’t let my children play video games except for educational purposes such as writing letters and numbers. I don’t let them play “Angry Birds” which is very popular with children their age. I really don’t think I’ve ever understood the premises, but it does seem like it is violent. I also don’t let them watch Sponge Bob because his lessons aren’t what I ‘m looking for now and maybe ever. Imitation is incredibly important during these years and it’s very important, but breaking children of these lessons which are inappropriate in my house and at school is harder and may confuse children. I watched Road Runner as a kid and even that I consider a bit violent, but I never took it literally like some children. I agree with the previous blog that mortality is not understood at that age and I am glad for that. Those stories of children who confuse reality with fantasy are very heartbreaking, but I can see where they don’t understand the difference. I am sure that my children and other classmates’ children now and in the future will be exposed to enough violence without us introducing it to them when they are young children. I still believe that parents have more power than we really know and it starts with staying with the basics of monitoring what we do allow our children to see and also limiting the amount of exposure to media and the internet and letting them enjoy the simple pleasures of being outside and playing with friends.
    Pro Wrestling Under Fire After Child’s Death. 2013, July 25. ABCNews.
    Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2005). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. SAGE Publications.

  16. Melody Renee Day

    In addition to my previous post, it’s also important to add the four processes which are necessary to achieve vicarious learning, or that learning which is motivated through observation and imitation; attention, representational process, behavioral production process, and motivational process (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2005, p. 142).
    The attention process speaks to the fact that the students in the Bill Nye the Science Guy example must pay attention to the modeled behavior in order for them to imitate it. The students must be watching the movie and paying attention to Bill Nye’s behaviors in order to be impacted by those behaviors. Then the representational process states that the students must remember the behavior to imitate it. In other words, in order to imitate Bill Nye’s enthusiasm for science, the students must store the memory of those behaviors for later use.
    Then there’s the behavioral production process which deals with the way that the students learn the behavior. The students in the Bill Nye example generalized Bill Nye’s passion for the science experiments he was specifically doing, to a wider appreciation and fondness for various other science experiments. Lastly and most often focused on with regards to the media, is the motivational process (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2005, p. 142). The students who watched Bill Nye the Science Guy must be motivated to reproduce the observed behavior of Bill Nye (enthusiasm for science). For instance, Bill Nye is rewarded by oohs and awws from his onscreen (and offscreen) audience. Bill Nye is also rewarded by having a good time, he laughs and has fun when he does science. These rewards in reference to the observed behavior help to motivate students to mimic Bill Nye’s passion and enthusiasm for science.
    Therefore, in order for social cognitive learning to be effective, students, and people in general, must not only be focused on the behavior being observed, but remember it, generalize its use, and be motivated to repeat the behavior. It is through this process that vicarious learning via social cognitive learning can helpfully influence classroom behaviors.


    Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2005). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

  17. Melody Renee Day

    Educational television can apply nicely in the classroom as well as in the home with regards to the inherently connected social cognitive learning theory’s negative and positive attributes. As you discussed, children learning and mimicking behaviors based on observation of others behaviors and the subsequent consequences of those behaviors can lead to both dangerous behavior imitation (such as in violent cartoons), as well as positive behavior imitation (such as improved arithmetic, spelling, helping behavior, and social skill, etc.); in other words, social cognitive learning theory at work (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2005, p. 212). Thus, educational television is something of consequence to consider in school settings well. For instance, where television shows such as Franklin, Little Bear, and Sesame Street can encourage improved children skillset in the home and personal settings, through social cognitive learning theory, movies and/or television shows can also improve classroom knowledge intake.

    As an example, through my own experience, the Bill Nye the Science Guy television series was always a favorite in our science classrooms throughout my education (grade school through high school). The Bill Nye the Science Guy educational television series was introduced in the late 90s, and is still being utilized by many today. Some teachers have used Bill Nye’s science videos to get students excited about concepts before introducing them, and others use the videos as a way to further engrain just previously covered concepts (Rockman et. al., n.d., p. 6). Teachers had us watch Bill Nye‘s show to demonstrate the utility and uniqueness of the science world and all it had to offer. Through watching Bill Nye’s many experiments, we, as students, were able to gain a greater understanding and appreciation for science in general, but also grander perspective, that science could be fun, and was in fact something a lot of us wanted to spend our time doing. Bill Nye showed us that science could be cool and through the observation of Bill Nye’s many works, we observed a passion for science, which then motivated us to recreate this urge to construct and experiment. Watching Bill Nye do all of the interesting things he could do with science made us students want to do those things as well, Bill Nye made us want to create scientific works of our own, or at the very least recreate what he demonstrated himself. In fact, in a survey regarding the usefulness of the Bill Nye system of television education, 93% of high school students who watched the Bill Nye series of experiments stated that they felt that viewing those episodes increased their interest in science (Rockman et. al., n.d., p. 9).

    Therefore, despite the damaging consequences of children observing negative behaviors demonstrated in some of today’s television programming, adding an appropriate educational television aspect to the classroom can have positive ramifications as well. Through the framework of social cognitive learning theory, film works such as Bill Nye the Science Guy can influence students (observation of a love for science and the many things science can accomplish) in the classroom to imitate or manifest more desired behaviors (engender a fondness for science and/or urge to begin or continue scientific studies, etc.).


    Rockman et. al. (n.d.). A Study of Bill Nye the Science Guy Outreach and Image. Retrieved March 19, 2014, from

    Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2005). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

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