Okay, so your child doesn’t NEED to be watching TV, but I think TV gets a bad rap. Lots of people would disagree with me. Just google “kids and TV”. Maybe throw the word “bad” into your search. You are guaranteed to pull up enough reading material for the next year: on childhood obesity, diabetes, lower vocabulary, decreased brain activity and much, much more. Actually, do yourself a favor and don’t google it because you’re pretty much signing up for some lost sleep and anxiety. You don’t need that.
We have a routine where my son watches TV after he has quiet time. Yesterday I was folding laundry in my room when my 3 year old son breathlessly sprinted in, “Do you know dolphins speak to each other with clicking sounds?” His favorite show right now is Wild Kratts, and these animal facts are sprinkled throughout our day. I’m amazed by what he has absorbed and learned from this fantastic show. I know that the studies show decreased brain activity in children watching TV, but as a mom, I see Asher’s wheels turning while he’s watching certain TV programs. He’s thinking, wondering, absorbing what he’s hearing, questioning what will happen next, remembering what happened before. He’s engaged and stimulated. (IF I choose the right TV show… more on that in this post.)
In what ways might TV help our kids learn and grow?
It gives them a way to interact with peers.
What do you talk about with other adults? Politics, sports, movies, TV shows, your work, your kids? Our kids aren’t interested in talking about most of these issues. But we do want our children engaged in social conversations with their peers. Knowing the same TV show or movie allows children to practice language with one another. It becomes an established script from which they can play pretend, becoming characters with personality traits and voices different from their own. It allows them to imagine a life outside of their own world and picture faraway places. Older children may talk about a recent episode in a TV show, debating a character’s actions or motivations, analyzing the likelihood of a particular story line. All of these things are also possible by reading books, but TV is just another medium to accomplish these goals for our children.
As a teacher, the first weeks of school are really exciting and hectic. The kids are figuring out the dynamics of their classroom and peers, and so are you. Everyone is talking about their summer and getting to know one another. When I taught 5th grade, I can vividly remember walking my class out to recess those first couple of weeks of school. The kids talked about their summer trips, sports activities, and the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. Shark Week was something that many of the kids had in common - despite different vacation destinations and activity schedules, many of them had tuned in to this week of programming. They recounted their favorite episodes, most surprising facts learned, and most shocking scenes they remembered. This week of programming around sharks had taught my students many science facts, but had also given them something in common: something to talk about, remember, and a way to bond with one another.
It gives them the chance to just “veg out”.
My oldest son is very active: constantly moving, thinking, talking, exploring. I love this about him, but he can absolutely run himself into the ground! He has a very hard time following his body’s cues of exhaustion, never giving himself time to rest. Around 2 years old, he went on a nap strike for about 3 months. I read books, called experts, and tried everything to get him to nap. He just wouldn’t. And by 2 or 3 o’clock every afternoon he was unable to function because he was so exhausted. I’ll never forget taking him for a walk in the stroller around the neighborhood one day (his face red from all of his exhausted screaming) and I called my mom sobbing. “Why won’t he nap?? He needs to sleep!” I’ll never forget what my mom said, “Jenn, you both need to rest for a few minutes. Turn on a cartoon – his body needs a break and so does yours. It’s okay.” So I did just that. I marched home, turned on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and we both rested. For 20 minutes, his body melted into mine and he rested. For the first time in 2 months. Some kids follow their body’s cues and will slow down when they need to. Some kids, like mine, don’t. And for you parents with kids out there like mine, take my mom’s advice. If a TV show or movie will allow your child to rest and recharge for a few minutes, don’t feel guilty about that.
Science or historical shows based on non-fiction teach kids facts
This is a pretty simple one. There are a lot of shows out there that are great at communicating facts to our children: Sesame Street, Wild Kratts, programming on the Discovery or History Channels, Word Girl, Magic School Bus and much more. These shows engage and can spark an interest in your child that you can then follow up on and learn more about with them. You may watch a show about sharks, which sparks an interest in your son and daughter. Following that, you may check out shark books at the library, take a trip to the aquarium, draw sharks, or tell and write stories about sharks.
Fictional TV shows or movies give children exposure to many literary elements.
Children can be exposed to literary elements that they will be expected to understand in elementary school through quality television programming and movies. They may see examples of:
· Characters – how they develop and change, their motivation, whether they are likable or not and why
· Story structure - problems, solutions/resolutions
· Theme, morals, lesson
Children can learn prosocial behaviors.
As this study highlights, children can learn positive behavior from television shows, and from watching these shows with an adult.
What do you think about these benefits to TV watching? Do you see these or more in your own home? Or do you think the risks outweigh the benefits?