Cartoons have been a staple of childhood development since the early 20th century. Two thirds of infants and toddlers watch an average of two hours of television a day, according to kidshealth.org. While watching cartoons, a child’s brain processes graphic images, educational information and violent acts. These brain-stimulating factors have both positive and negative effects on children’s development.
A positive effect of cartoons in children is its stimulation of learning. The Education Resources Information Center presented an article by Robert Gill in 2000 called “The Effects of Cartoon Characters as Motivators of Preschool Disadvantaged Children.” Gill suggests that cartoons help teachers reach curriculum goals and help preschool age children reach higher levels of learning. Gill’s research concluded that using a cartoon character in classroom material stimulates interpersonal behavior, learning and social development in children. Consistent use of the same cartoon character helps children become comfortable to express their feelings and understanding of the subject. Gill states that children who use work material with a cartoon character learn more than children using the same material without the cartoon character.
A child watches approximately 18,000 hours of television from kindergarten to high school graduation, according to research by psychologist Steve Hossler of Bowling Green State University. Specifically, watching cartoons has a negative effect on the way children view violence. Cartoons often depict violent acts like explosions, gunshots and death. However, these acts of violence occur in extreme situations with no consequences. A child’s brain, emotions and sense of pain are negatively affected because they become desensitized to violence. In 2000, the U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher created a report on adolescent violence where he stated that aggressive behavior in young children is caused by frequently watching entertainment with violence in it.
In 2004, Dr. Ruebert Saturnine III presented an argument on the negative effects of cartoons on children for the Animation World Network, Inc. One of Saturnine’s criticisms focused on copycat incidents where children injured themselves by trying to imitate fictional characters. The first case of a cartoon-related lawsuit occurred in 1928, when a small boy, Dickie Johnson, took his family’s yacht out on a lake as he tried to replicate a cartoon sea captain. Dickie crashed the boat and his family filed a case against Walt Disney on charges of corrupting a minor. During the trial, Dickie testified and stated, "I thought if a lowly, common mouse could drive a boat, surely I could, too." Saturnine stated that cases of cartoon-related injuries increased steadily each year after the Dickie Johnson incident. Because children are unable to make the distinction between reality and fiction, they cause harm to themselves by imitating what they see in cartoons.