In this post, I wrote about the many benefits to children watching TV. But I also acknowledged that there are lots of studies that highlight the disadvantages to children watching TV.
I have not spoken with any of the researchers that have conducted these studies, but I have spoken with pediatricians, parenting experts, grandparents and parents, and the consensus on media exposure in children seems to be pretty consistent. Like nearly everything else that gets viewed as bad for us in life, TV alone is not the problem. Irresponsible use of TV is.
So the question then arises, what does responsible TV use look like in the home of a preschool or elementary school child? What should parents be doing to ensure that their TV is a positive addition to their child’s environment, not a damaging one?
There are a few things I always keep in mind when it comes to TV and my children. What would you add to my list?
1. I follow the AAP’s guidelines for media usage in children.
You can find them here.
2. My kids don't watch shows with commercials.
This is an interesting read about why I've made that choice.
My kids know when to expect to watch TV and how much. I refuse to let the TV be a source of argument in our house!
4. I research.
Every time we think of watching a new TV show or movie that we haven’t seen, I always first look it up on www.commonsensemedia.com. This site is a fantastic resource for families. Just type in the name of the TV show or movie you are thinking about showing your child, and Common Sense Media will give you a synopsis of the program, age suggested for viewing, and possible concerns.
5. We do not play shows or movies that display violence.
Have you ever noticed how violent children’s TV shows can be? Many children’s shows are significantly more violent than the shows that adults are exposed to. Of all of the research about TV viewing and kids, many of the studies that stand out to me as the most shocking and clear-cut are the ones that highlight the effect of violent shows and games on children. For that reason, we do not watch shows that display violence. Learn more about TV violence and kids here.
6. We watch a very narrow scope of the shows and movies available.
Right now my son is in a Wild Kratts phase. Before that, it was Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. We do not watch a large variety of shows, we watch a very small number of shows that I’ve researched and determined will be a positive addition to our home. As we move through the seasons of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or Wild Kratts, I see my son becoming acquainted with the characters, the structure of each show, and singing songs or quoting facts after the television has been turned off. I see greater engagement and recall of facts and details when we watch a smaller variety of programs.
7. Our TV is not on as “background noise”.
With the exception of occasional sports events, our TV is not on as background noise. We want our children to consciously watch TV, looking forward to it, enjoying it, and then turning it off. Our children aren’t exposed to adult shows, and we NEVER have news programs on when they are within earshot. I do not want my children exposed to adult issues before it’s developmentally appropriate.
8. I talk with my kids about what they’ve watched.
Not always. But usually. As often as I can. I ask my son questions as he's watching his show and make comments that I think will help him think more deeply about what he's watching. (“Wow! I can’t believe he did that! I wonder why he’s doing that?”) I ask him what his favorite part was. I ask him what his least favorite part was. I talk with him about TV shows and movies in much of the same way as I talk with him about books! In fact, you can use these guides for discussing reading with your child as a starting point for rich questions to ask your children after they watch a show or movie.
9. We don't have TVs in our kids' rooms.
10. TV doesn’t replace time with me or replace interactions with people.
This last one is really the key for me. To me, it’s the most important part of all of this.
Our TV is a part of our life. A very small part. We have family reading nights, play in our backyard, play games together and pretend. We explore parks, go on hikes, to the aquarium, the zoo, museums and to the beach. We have playdates with friends and go to school. We do art projects at our kitchen table and cook and bake together. And we watch TV.
As you think of creating a TV/movie plan for your family, I would make this my focus. Expose your children to as much as you can in life! Allow your TV to be a rich complement to a well-rounded life, an additional thing to have conversations and ask questions about, and I think that’s the most important rule of all.