Cartoons Will Make It All Better

August 18, 2006

Interesting study just came out revealing that cartoons are stronger than a mother’s comfort when it comes to helping a child endure physical pain. Researchers found that children watching cartoons suffered less pain from a hypodermic needle than kids not watching TV, and that the cartoons were more comforting than Mom.

The results of the study ruffled chief author Carlo Bellieni, an Italian father of three and a neonatologist and pediatrician.

“The power of television is strong and it can be harmful for children if it is stronger than the force made by the mother to distract children,” Bellieni said. “I believe that this power must be controlled and reduced.”

Hmm. I question his dramatic conclusion. It sorta smacks of turf wars and sets up an unfair competition between mom and machine that mom is destined to lose.

Other studies have found that the mothers and fathers attempts at comforting often backfire because it makes the children feel that “something must really be bad” if they need to be soothed, said Dr. Brenda McClain, director pediatric pain management services at Yale University.

McClain, who was not part of the Italian study, said the Bellieni’s effect may not be just television, but any kind of distraction, such as storytelling. “Distraction is a very powerful tool,” she said.

But it’s got to be passive distraction like television, not one requiring children to do anything because when they are asked to play, their reported pain levels go up, a study last year found, said Dr. Stephen Hays, director of pediatric pain services at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

Just this evening, Jude stumbled on the sidewalk and pitched forward, skinning his forehead on concrete. I responded using strategy A, hugging and kissing and aggressively soothing. Then a fire truck went by, and I shifted to strategy B, telling stories about the fire truck and where it was going. This distraction worked way better, but I could never skip the comfort reaction. It’s too reflexive. And it helps me cope as well, even if it pales to the trance of TV.