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For a start, let me just say, “Wow!” This one is for everyone who ever felt guilty about loving Speed Racer, The Roadrunner Show, or any other kids cartoon that in hindsight looks terribly violent.

It is a common phenomenon among my friends to look back at all the (awful) stuff we watched on TV when we were kids and think, “Geez, that was terrible. How did we not know how awful that was?” This sentiment sometimes alternates with a version of confirmation bias in which we say, “Oh for cryin’ out loud. I watched ____ when I was a kid, and I’m not a violent sociopath!”

Nervously, my generation has banned the old Looney Toons and other violent fare as verboten and has instead plugged our kids into shows like Arthur or Clifford where kids learn about interpersonal relationships: hurt feelings, saying you are sorry, teasing, all of it.

So imagine my horror, surprise, and (shameful) delight when I read a study in Po Bronson’s Nurtureshock about kids’ TV. According to several longitudinal studies, watching violent shows makes kids a little more aggressive. Not a lot, but some. However, watching these interpersonal shows makes kids horribly, awfully, relationally aggressive. You read that right. Kids watching certain educational TV programs increase their rate of relational aggression at over twice the rate that kids watching the old violent stuff increase their rate of physical aggression.

By relational aggression, I’m referring to teasing, taunting, not sharing, gossiping, name-calling, and all the behavior I remember so fondly from sixth grade. Why wait until middle school when you can get your kids sufficiently miserable before kindergarten?

How is this even possible? I asked myself. Well, the authors of many kids’ television programs seem to have missed a key point about how kids minds work. When they put together a show where 20 minutes are dedicated to teasing/ostracizing/judging and then the conflict resolves in the final 2 minutes, kids’ brains don’t really understand how the last two minutes relates to the first 20. They don’t make the interpretive connections adults do.

What they see, alas, is 20 minutes of modeling of totally unpleasant behavior. Instead of being deterred from being nasty, they get a 20 minute lesson in exactly how to go about being awful to your friends.

Needless to say, this is coloring how I view television programs. Thomas and Friends gets a marginal pass,  mostly because the trains are only rarely nasty to each other; more often they just defy orders. Plus, come on, they’re trains. Caillou is fine. George is mischievous but sweet and friendly. The rest I’m re-examining. Unless the resolution is long and involved (which kids need to see to understand how conflicts get resolved), it’s OUT.

But The Roadrunner Show? IN

2 Responses to “In Defense of Looney Toons”

  1. bethnbobinnc says:

    Interesting… I have to admit that we watch a fair number of the “outlawed” shows at our house. My boys love Tom and Jerry and it doesn’t get much more violent than that. That said, my boys aren’t very violent themselves. They’ll defend themselves against someone trying to take a toy by screaming NO as loud as possible but they rarely hit. So I guess they haven’t learned how to work out sharing very well but they also don’t use violence much.

  2. harriette says:

    Alise learned how to change channels today while I was watching her. What she wanted to watch was Scooby Doo, which I was afraid was too violent (zombies and mummies) for her until I noticed that she was scrunching up next to me and smiling and looking up at me every time something “scary” happened. She knew that the violence on the TV was just pretend and so she was pretending to be scared also. So, I got into the game and we would scrunch up, look at each other, and say “Scary!” at the same time. Great fun! And very different than the realistic violence we adults watch all the time in the form of TV news.

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