Countless parents the world over turn to cartoons to contain the endless reserves of energy children possess. Cartoons are nearly essential in a child’s life and since children spend a great proportion of their waking hours behind the television screen – which is unfortunate enough since it eats into the time they can spend flexing their muscle outdoors – it’s important they benefit at some level from this experience.

Just yesterday, I was flipping through channels when a familiar Tom and Jerry chase appeared on the screen. In typical fashion, Tom, despite the benefit of his feline abilities and larger size, stumbled in his own trap and subsequently moved on to the next plan. As always, Tom persevered in the face of almost certain failure. He picked himself up from the wreckage of recurring disaster – whether it was a chainsaw that chopped his head off or an apple pie Jerry smashed in his face – Tom remained immortal, ageless and frozen at one point in time with far more than just nine lives.

While I enjoyed the destruction between two fictional cartoon characters, I couldn’t help wonder what my three-month old niece was gleaning from a violent ‘cat and mouse’ game. According to the little research gathered on this subject and summarized in a report written by Steven J. Kirsh, in a paper called ‘cartoon violence and aggression in youth’, in the U.S. cartoons geared towards seven-year-olds and above contain more violence than prime time programs but their effect on children is significantly diminished if the violence is coupled with comedy.

Essentially, comedy undermines the impact of violence. And so a majority of children will not equate comical death, pain or suffering with violence. I suppose that’s a good thing. But then there are also the more serious cartoons that don’t use violence as a tool for slapstick humor and these do influence children. More studies are needed to provide conclusive results on how these cartoons influence child behavior, but the ones conducted thus far indicate that children exposed to violence in cartoons are more prone to being violent themselves, especially the boys. The only consolation is that as children inch closer to double-digit years, violent behavior induced through violence in cartoons is usually countered by the child’s guardians at home and school and the child ultimately learns how to discern reality from fiction.

I recall a time, some years ago, when a friend’s nephew, no more than six years old, repeatedly attacked me with a hanger on my friend’s cue. The whole act was obviously in jest and I wasn’t experiencing any real danger. But what about the child’s peers? Would they be able to defend themselves from the wrath of the ‘demolition man’ whose deadly choice of weapon was a coat hanger? At that time, it didn’t seem so.

The idea here is not to suggest that violence in cartoons transform meek children into bullies, but that some characters or traits repeatedly seen on television are likely to stick with children more so than others and that these influences shape the behavior of individuals as they grow older. Yet another interesting human behavior study conducted on a sample of young professionals in their 20s and 30s, indicates that most children are likely to relegate the memory of a menacing villain to an unknown, less frequented quarter in their minds and in contrast, the humorous and amicable side roles to the lead character are the ones they assign a special place to – like Baloo in Jungle Book or Timon and Pumba in Lion King for instance. And so immediately, according to this particular study at least, the behavior of characters supporting the lead role influence us more so than any other character and this influence follows us beyond our adolescent life.

So the question is, what qualifies for good content and if adults are in fact solely responsible for devising scripts, how mindful are they about the repercussions of inappropriate actions or messaging? Considering the deluge of violent cartoon characters, it seems like the world today is divided on this question.

One school of thought is to help transform children into adults at the soonest possible time; get them on their feet and get them to contribute to the world they live in. The precocious child therefore has a history of being treated and spoken to like an adult and censorship or caution in generating new content is therefore not a priority discussion. The other mindset is a protectionist one where parents and guardians agree to protect a fragile, delicate and highly impressionable young mind; they agree on carefully laying out a structure of experiences for someone who is gradually growing in his or her capacity to assimilate greater, more complex information.

Absolutely following either of the two approaches can be problematic. Too much exposure can be scarring and too less can be disabling.

In the end I think if Jerry does in fact outsmart Tom and Tom evaporates or dramatically dies ‘momentarily’, there’s no real cause for alarm because Tom is back in the game in his pristine blue coat almost immediately for another round of cat and mouse – not exactly a scarring childhood experience. And the same applies to other contemporary cartoons: they may be more ‘out there’ compared to what we consumed two decades ago, but then so are the times we live in.

Not to mention, in today’s digitized world children have a knack for instantly finding content, especially if it’s forbidden, so why lose your sleep on the intricate dynamics of how Jerry executes Tom in the first place?