Some say the show is too hyper-stimulating for children
By Amanda Jowsey
Parents of preschoolers have come to know and love JJ, TomTom, and his sister, YoYo, the beloved characters of “Cocomelon,” a children’s show with more than 120 million subscribers on YouTube, generating 3 billion views per month.
Their bright faces are now etched into our minds and hearts. And, naturally, we’re sick of hearing the same songs repeated.
New claims about the show’s psychological impact on children provoke doubt about the show’s quality.
Jerrica Sannes, child development specialist and online mom group celebrity, claimed that “Cocomelon” is so hyper-stimulating, it acts as a drug and mimics the effects of addiction in children.
“The brain gets a hit of dopamine from screen time and it seems the stronger the ‘drug’ (level of stimulation a show delivers), the stronger the ‘hit.’ This leads to young children experiencing symptoms of addiction and withdrawal, leaving them completely dysregulated,” Sannes said on her Instagram page.
She believes that the show’s hyper-stimulatory traits come from the fast-paced scenes per second and the way the camera moves frequently, if not constantly, during these scenes. She said that shows like this lead to “a general discomfort in the speed of everyday life. The more they watch the show, the more their brain begins to expect this intense level of stimulation which makes it impossible for them to play creatively and without entertainment.”
Unless you have young children at home, you probably never heard of the show ‘Cocomelon.’ But make no mistake, this is one of the hottest shows for young kids and it’s only available online — it has 120 million subscribers on YouTube and generates 3 billion views per month.
Claire E. Cameron, Ph.D., associate professor of learning and instruction at the University at Buffalo Graduate School of Education, confirmed that “Rapid pacing and production features draw young children’s attention through sensory systems, not higher order brain functions like comprehension.”
For young children, their priority is on orienting. “It’s a way of processing information through the sensory systems of the brain. It’s a way of making sure we are safe…paying attention to important things in our environment,” Cameron said. “This fast-paced hyper-stimulation prevents children from having time to process and comprehend what is happening. The pacing is too fast for them to comprehend so their higher order thinking and understanding is not able to develop.”
Cameron developed the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task, a game-like assessment of executive function and behavioral self-regulation for children.
Angeline Lillard, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, did a study on “SpongeBob SquarePants” using Cameron’s measure. Lillard proposed that those fast-paced shows, like “Cocomelon,” “are really draining to a child’s attention and executive systems. After watching something like that, when asked to use those cognitive skills, they’re sort of depleted,” Cameron summarized.
Many of the “Cocomelon” songs are classic children’s nursery rhymes that teach valuable lessons. It focuses on the love of family, good manners, caring for animals and other people and the importance of trying new things.
So, while “Cocomelon” is full of incredibly wholesome values and seems to be very educational, the larger lessons may be lost on a child who is too overwhelmed with sensory input to grasp these larger concepts.
“There are basically three conversations here,” Cameron said. “The first one is the quality of the show in comparison to other media available to young children. The second huge conversation is let’s not get too picky about an individual show. Let’s step back and think about what media use and screen time does for young children’s development and maybe what it prevents from happening. The third one that’s really important not to overlook is for parents and especially in pandemic times and what has led to increased screen times and the pressures on parents.”
“You can’t tell parents what they’re doing is wrong when they’re surviving or doing what’s needed to get by. We need a structural shift so that parents can be more present when children are young. More family leave, sick leave, more vacation, we need a different social contract,” Cameron added.
Can infants become addicted to shows like “Cocomelon”? Cameron believes that when asking this question, we need to talk more about the young needs of children than the show itself. We need to make sure that we are not relying on this media to replace vital things in the home such as secure attachment, stable and warm caregivers, language input and interaction.
“Which of their needs is media filling in the house?” Cameron asked.
This will allow us to make more informed decisions and choose quality shows for our children.
Cameron’s final takeaway about “Cocomelon” is that she would look for alternate slow-paced realistic shows and talk about them with kids while it’s on. Turning down the volume reduces stimulation. Allowing repeated views to increase the child’s understanding of what they’re watching may also help with that higher thinking. She also recommends getting an ad blocker if it’s being watched on YouTube because the ads that pop up suddenly during an episode also make it difficult for a child to follow the larger narrative, which prevents that higher thinking and comprehension. Replace screen time with rich interaction as much as possible and help children set boundaries when you turn it off.
Featured image: “Cocomelon,” a children’s show with more than 120 million subscribers on YouTube, generates 3 billion views per month. Critics say the show is so hyper-stimulating that it acts as a drug and mimics the effects of addiction in children.