By Chelsea Convis and Laurie Bertke
Many parents would like to avoid having their young child watch TV at all. But those parents might also agree that, at certain moments, it’s not that bad to plop a kiddo down with a show while trying to get dinner ready or paying bills. That is even more likely if the show is specifically made with children in mind, like “Cocomelon.” With its catchy nursery rhymes and original tunes, as well as bright cartoon characters, “Cocomelon” seems like a great way to capture kids’ attention.
But what if shows like “Cocomelon” are actually quite harmful for children? Anecdotal conversations between parents concerning the negative impact of “Cocomelon” on their children have been circulating on social media, and it seems that neurodivergent children might be getting hit the hardest.
One mom shared that her young son, a “Cocomelon” viewer, tried to run away from home, while hundreds of Redditors share parenting horror stories of trying to turn off “Cocomelon” only to be met with angry shrieks of protest. Many moms share that they become worried about “Cocomelon” after seeing other moms on TikTok sharing how harmful they thought the program was for their kids.
So, what’s the scoop on “Cocomelon”? Should you steer your child away?
Know your child
First, pediatricians at the University of Michigan urge parents to consider that, in general, the descriptor “educational” applied to apps and shows doesn’t mean they are educational.
“For little kids, no screen-based activity is ever as educational as talking, singing, or playing with you,” the medical professionals concluded.
“You would want to be very careful about having programming that is above their developmental level,” she said. “It can be overwhelming if kids are not there yet.”
Regarding “Cocomelon,” Jerrica Sannes (a child development expert with an MEd in early childhood, currently located in Orange County, CA) was one of the first people to speak out with concerns.
On Instagram, Sannes wrote: “Cocomelon is so hyperstimulating that it actually acts as a drug, as a stimulant. The brain gets a hit of dopamine from screen-time, and it seems that the stronger the ‘drug’ aka the level of stimulation a show delivers, the stronger the ‘hit.’ This leads to 1) children experiencing symptoms of addiction and withdrawal, often leaving them dysregulated, and 2) a general discomfort with the speed of everyday life. The more children watch the show, the more the brain begins to expect that kind of stimulation. This makes it impossible for the child to play creatively and without entertainment.”
Sannes thinks that “Cocomelon,” with its two-second scene changes, fast camera movements, and emphasis on multiple effects, is too stimulating for some children.
What about neurodivergent children?
Neurodivergence is a nonmedical term that describes people whose brain develops or works differently for some reason. Dr. Drescher said neurodivergence is a spectrum that includes conditions such as autism and ADHD.
Some kids on this neurodivergent spectrum can be easily overstimulated, so programming should be evaluated in light of the individual, versus “a general consensus of what is good or bad,” said Dr. Drescher. “With ‘Cocomelon,’ it sounds like it can be quite stimulating, so with kiddos who are not entirely neurotypical, it could be overwhelming for them.”
Although there are no academic studies on how “Cocomelon” affects neurodivergent children, parents express both concerns and positive stories in comments on social media about the program.
One mom says, “Cocomelon worked great for my son. He went from nothing but baby babble at two years old to actually saying sentences before his third birthday. ‘Cocomelon’ and ‘Baby Shark’ songs helped with his speaking when speech therapy didn’t work. It depends on the kid themselves.”
One dad said it helped his nonverbal daughter learn “to sing”. But another grandmother said “Cocomelon” became “like a drug” to her two-year-old grandson. “He had to have it to wake up, sleep, and pretty much demanded it all day long.”
How much screen time is too much?
Some experts think that viewing “Cocomelon” is absolutely fine for young children. Nicole Beurkens, a psychologist in Grand Rapids, finds “Cocomelon” stimulating, but not overwhelming. Its bright colors help babies (whose eyesight is not fully developed) to see what’s going on, and the repetition of the music is educationally valuable for children.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics screen time guidelines exist for a reason, it’s reasonable for parents to focus on the bigger picture as they apply those rules within their families. If you are going on a five-hour car ride, for example, it’s okay to let your child watch a movie that exceeds the allotted screen time recommendation.
“I would say knowing when it becomes harmful is more important than the actual amount of time that they’re spending.” said Dr. Drescher. “If it’s impeding their ability to get out and spend time with family members, spend time with parents, that’s when I’d say it becomes harmful. You don’t want to just stick your kid in front of a TV all day long and have no interaction with them.”
If your child refuses to go to bed, is unable to be redirected from television to a different activity, or becomes rigid about watching a program at the same time every day, Dr. Drescher said these can be additional warning signs that screen time is becoming problematic.
In terms of evaluating programs for educational value, Dr. Drescher advocates for those that teach about cultural diversity and include social-emotional components such as how to talk about feelings.
“It’s great to learn the ABCs,” she said. “It’s also even better to know how to interact in the world. When you have examples of positive social interactions and talking about emotions, I feel like that’s going to carry kids much further, especially in the world we’re living in right now, after they’ve been isolated for a period of time.”