An Open Letter to SpongeBob

Dear Spongey (I can call you that after all these years, can’t I?),

It’s with great sadness (well, a modicum of sadness) that my family and I must bid you and your strange, underwater minions adieu. Though our kids, ages eight and five, have reveled in your crass antics for the past couple years, the new study about your negative effect on their brains has me kind of wigging out.

The study was pretty clear that exposure to just nine minutes of your fast-paced capers (in the clip used by researchers, the scene changed every 11 seconds, and the characters were rapidly moving through space almost the whole time) can deplete executive functioning skills significantly, at least in the short term. We’re talking about ability to pay attention, self-regulate, and remember stuff here. Not exactly areas we want our kids to suffer deficits in, especially since they usually watch you right before school. Truth be told, I often winced at your smart-alecky shtick, but to think that teaching potty mouth was the least of your sins, well, I’m sure you understand. Yesterday, after I read about the study, I approached my kids with newfound purpose. Finally, I had hard evidence of the wisdom my husband has been trying to impart for years: “That show will make your brain fall out of your ear.”

I admit he’s old school, but he was onto something. In the study, the group of four-year-olds who watched SpongeBob, as opposed to watching Calliou or just coloring, scored significantly lower on several cognitive tests taken right afterward. The news lit up the Internet. Jezebel had a particularly biting headline.

I know, I know. SpongeBob isn’t meant for four-year-olds. It’s meant for six- through eleven-year-olds. Our son is eight-and-a-half. But the thing is, when he’s watching TV, so is his five-year-old sister, and our 16-month-old baby is toddling around somewhere nearby. I knew as soon as I read the report that I had to deliver the blow.

The timing was weirdly perfect. Our son was sprawled out on the carpet, the cable remote in his hand. Our daughter was sitting next to him, eyes glued to the TV screen in anticipation. They’d just made their selection and, as I entered the room, your voice screeched without warning, jangling my pre-coffee nerves. Your visage sprang to the screen, and I saw you in a new light. No longer were you a rude-yet-harmless sponge that talked. Suddenly, you were a menace.

I asked the kids to pause the show, explained what I’d just read, and then, with a sobriety reserved for flushing dead goldfish down the toilet or tossing a broken but beloved toy into the garbage, I let them watch one last episode.

I don’t mean to rub salt in the wound, but they didn’t really complain. They seemed more interested in what the study said. And yet, I’m sure they’ll miss you. You were a dependable, if annoying, companion these past couple of years. And to honor your memory, we’ll continue to use the beach towel emblazoned with your freakish image, eat the mac-and-cheese featuring pasta shaped like you and Patrick, even don those tight, not-from-nature, SpongeBob-themed pajamas. (Actually, I think we’ll use this as an opportunity to get rid of those.) You get the picture. Though you’re leaving us, your spirit will live on, in large ways and small, in the form of all the branded junk our kids have begged us to buy them over the years.

In fact, in that way, you may outlive us all.