For me, it is difficult to imagine a childhood without cartoons. I have fond memories of sitting in front of the television, chocolate milk in hand, my only care in the world being whether or not the Powerpuff Girls would be able to save the city of Townsville (spoiler alert: they always did).
During the 90s and early 2000s, I was a passive absorber of whatever images and information the television fed me. I took in the music, sound effects, and bright colors without giving any further thought to the underlying consequences and implications of the media that I was being exposed to.
Although I did not realize it at the time, it occurred to me recently that cartoons might have a greater impact on children than we realize. I wondered: How do the characters and events portrayed in cartoons impact the behavior, development, and overall psychological well-being of the children who are exposed to them?
According to an article by KidsHealth, “the average American child will witness 200,000 violent acts on television by age 18.”
As stated by the American Psychological Association, research shows that children who are exposed to violent media are much more likely to imitate similar violent behavior later in life. Through an observational study, psychologists L. Rowell Huesmann and Leonard Eron concluded that children with a greater exposure to television violence at the age of eight years old had a greater likelihood to gravitate towards aggressive behavior or harmful crimes during their teenage years and ultimately during adulthood.
Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup, collectively known as the Powerpuff Girls, are called upon to protect the city of Townsville by fighting crime and conquering a variety of evildoers. However, in order to defeat the evil villains, the girls must resort to acts of force and violence. Animated television shows such as the Powerpuff Girls often receive complains and criticism, as they convey a message to children that violence is not only acceptable, but admired. Children begin to believe that violence can be used to obtain what they want, and when children see the so-called “heroes” or “good guys” using violence, they grow to view it as an effective method that yields positive results. Characters such as the Powerpuff Girls are never reprimanded for their acts of violence; in fact, they are viewed as heroic and are rewarded with recognition and praise.
Because the early years of a child’s life are a critical period in which the brain is undergoing a significant amount of development, television can have a larger impact than we realize. At this stage, children are not necessarily able to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong, and fantasy from reality. They readily accept the violence seen in the media, despite the fact that what is considered acceptable on television may not be consistent with the standards of acceptable behavior in real life.
It is clear that cartoon violence is capable of yielding dangerous consequences, and television exposure has a significant impact on children. However, we can productively use this information to benefit our future children, using the power of television and cartoons to educate and to promote positive behavior.