Good vs. Bad Shows: Choosing TV Shows for Kids

Do you worry that your child watches too much TV? Obviously there is such a thing as too much TV, but this article is about something more important. It’s about choosing the right kind of TV shows for your kids. I believe that watching too much TV is less damaging to a child than watching the wrong kind of shows. Experts have found out that the wrong shows definitely have a negative impact on kids.

The fact that media influences kids was confirmed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in a study done back in 2001. They said, “Children are influenced by media–they learn by observing, imitating, and making behaviors their own.”

Furthermore, studies made by the Office of the Surgeon General in 1972 concluded that media violence has a negative effects on kids. Several more studies followed including those made by the National Institute of Mental Health, American Psychological Association, Committee on Public Education and all have the same conclusions – what your child watches on TV will affect his behavior.

So let’s talk about what kind of shows your kids should watch, and what you want them to avoid. Let’s go through some common questions …

My children are 5 and 6 years old. Is it okay to let them watch shows geared towards teenage years? What are the risks of this?

5-6 years old is a magical age. Your kids are not babies anymore. They are old enough for you to have a conversation with. During this age, kids will undergo an amazing transformation – from being a clingy young child into a kid who has a new perspective of the world.

Kids this age are easily swayed by peers, logic and the rules of the world – and this is why they should not watch shows geared towards a teenage audience (hint: Hannah Montana and iCarly). I watched an episode of Hannah Montana with my daughter once, and I’ve got to say that lines such as, “I kissed a bad boy” is not the message I want her to be absorbing.

Many TV shows encourage stereotyping, and kids tend to believe they are not beautiful if they are on the heavy side, or that they need to have be the quarterback’s girlfriend if they want to be popular. These are not helpful messages. They encourage “limiting beliefs”, and they set your child up to be less successful in the future.

My advice: Avoid having your kids watch teenager-oriented shows until they are closer to being teenagers, UNLESS the show offers a set of good role models and positive messages. Until then, avoid comedy and drama type of shows until your kids are old enough to reduce the influence from such shows.

Speaking of which, I think all parents should be looking at this course to imprint success in children early on.

As a parent, what are the criteria that I need to consider when deciding on the best TV shows for kids?

Sure, I can provide a list of shows (and I do below) that are “good” or “bad”, but shows change. Parents need a useful set of criteria on which to evaluate the value of a show. Here’s my shot at providing that to you.

  • No violence in any way – physical or verbal.
  • Should promote social well-being and kindness (love, sharing, and friendship).
  • Should be educational. A lot of TV shows for kids today focus on encouraging children to dance, say words and make sounds.
  • Should not be racist. Choose programs that show equality between people of all races. A lot of shows today may show both Asians and Caucasians, for instance, but be careful of how the show portrays other races. For example, if the non-caucasian characters are all portrayed to be idiots, do you really want your child unconsciously adopting the belief that “those people” are dumb? Of course not ! Idiots come in all races and colors, and so do geniuses. Avoid TV programs that violate this rule.
  • Should not make kids grow before they really should. Be careful about shows labeled as “child-friendly” when they’re really not. Hannah Montana, for instance, is from Disney Channel but the story only revolves around boys and popularity. 5 and 6 year old kids don’t need to be programmed with this kind of stuff so early on.
  • Should be appropriate for their age. The TV programs your child watches should level with their comprehension and understanding. Toddlers would benefit from shows such as Dora the Explorer and The Backyardigans while older kids would surely love the Super Why (focuses on literacy skills) and Ni Hao Kai-Lan (which helps kids learn how to express their feelings).
  • Your child should be able to relate to the show. If your child is of the age where making friends is vital, Barney the Dinosaur focuses on making friends and sharing stuff. Shows focusing on child-safety, being friendly to animals and schoolwork are also good choices. Once your kid is beyond this, focus on shows that teach problem-solving skills and conflict resolution
  • Should feature role models for your child. TV programs are very powerful, and the characters your child sees acting in the show will influence him just like we adults are influenced (for good or bad) by celebrities. More often, he will imitate what he sees and I’m sure you don’t want your child to act like the smart but nasty Dr. House.
  • Should have no dangerous acts or stunts. Seeing characters do impossible stunts may be fun, but it may be dangerous for a young child. As pointed out again and again, your child tends to copy what he sees on TV and that hand spring may be harmless on TV but it is very dangerous when your child tries to execute it.
  • Should be Rated G. When MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) gives a G-rating to a movie or a show, it means there is nothing in it that would offend young viewers such as sex, violence, nudity or inappropriate language.

What are good examples of shows versus bad examples?

Here’s a list of shows that we recommend:

1. Between the Lions: With Theo and Cleo Lion as the main characters, this is a great show for helping kids appreciate literature. Theo and Cleo, with their cubs Leona and Lionel live in a magical library where stories become real as they’re read. What I like most about this is that each episode focuses on a particular letter sound or combination which helps kids learns faster.

2. Little Bill: Created by Bill Cosby, I like this show for a couple of reasons. Little Bill (which actually looks like a young Bill Cosby) is an energetic 5-year old who knows how to make lemonade when life dishes out lemons. If he’s stuck inside the house during a rainy day, for example, he finds ways to still enjoy himself, which sends a positive message.

3. Ni Hao, Kai-Lan: Ni Hao Kai-Lan is a lot like Dora the Explorer, except that it engages children with Chinese and English. Aside from helping kids explore the world of geography, this show also focuses on good manners and values, which the Chinese culture is so well known for.

4. Sid the Science Kid: We all know how curious kids are, and this show will feed their curious minds. Just like other kids, Sid is very curious about the world and how things work. He finds solutions to problems through scientific investigations and observations, which is actually encouraged by the adult characters of the show. Each week, the show focuses on a different topic such as the human body, machines and transformations.

5. Little Einstein: The Little Einstein is a favorite show in many homes. The main characters include Leo, June, Quincy and Annie. What I like most about it is that it teaches art and music appreciation by featuring the works of famous artists from the romantic, classical and baroque period.

6. Zoboomafoo: Zoboomafoo is a great show starring a Sifaka Lemur called Zoboomafoo (Zoboo for short) and Chris and Martin Kratt. We know how much kids love animals, and this one will teach them about different animal habitats, characteristics and lifestyle.

7. Backyardigans: The Backyardigans, made up of friends Pablo, Uniqua, Tasha, Tyrone and Austin have always been a hit in our home. As a parent, I love how the show focuses on encouraging children to use their imagination and my kids simply love the songs and the dance choreography.

8. Sesame Street: Of course, how can we not include Sesame Street – the show that started it all? Created in 1969 by Children’s Television Workshop, its main target is to use television as a way to educate kids. The many characters like Big Bird, Cookie Monster and Elmo encourage kids to count read and learn the alphabet in a fun way.

9. Arthur: Arthur was a favorite when I was young, and now my kids love it too. The story focuses on Arthur, his friends and family and how they deal with each other. What I like most about this is that it shows kids how to handle difficult things such as the death of a pet, the illness of a friend and more recently, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

10. Blue’s Clues: This show is one of the most successful children’s television programs ever. If you and your child like a good mystery, you can both sit down and watch this show. The main character, Steve, lives with his puppy named Blue. The show has won a number of awards, including nine Emmy awards. What we like most about this is that it encourages children to think by following the clues left by Blue.

Here’s a list of shows that we do not recommend:

1. Sponge Bob: I’m sure you’re not surprised. If you’re one of those parents who sit with their child while watching television, you’d know why Sponge Bob is something we are not recommending. There are no moral values to the stories, it doesn’t encourage children to think and Patrick Star no doubt uplifts stupidity (and make children think it’s cool). Sorry, but I don’t want my kids thinking that stupid is cool. It isn’t.

2. Tom and Jerry: Tom and Jerry must be one of the most popular TV shows for kids in the 1940’s until the late 1990’s. Thankfully, it’s not as popular today. The show has no educational or emotional value. It teaches violence between a cat and a mouse. It’s funny for adults to watch – I’ll admit that I’m a big kid and I laugh. But kids are too impressionable and this kind of violence (while funny to us) is not helpful to kids.

3. Glee: I will admit that my wife and I both love this show. But there’s now way I want my kids watching it at a young age. Despite the obvious musical talent and the diversity that the show encourages, it’s just not appropriate for young kids. Artie losing his virginity to Britney at such a young age and Quinn getting pregnant and giving it up for adoption after? C’mon. My young kids don’t need to be watching shows with such strong sexual themes.

4. Hannah Montana: First, there’s the language. I’m not talking about the actual words, but the theme behind them. Consider a line such as, “But the beach has cute boys” … it’s not age appropriate for 6 year olds. There’s also Hannah’s fame, which although hidden to protect Hannah from fans, makes kids think they can really live a double life. There’s no argument that some Hannah Montana episodes deal with friendship and family values, but I think the negatives out weight the positives with this show. Save it for when your kids are a bit older.

5. Teletubbies: I just don’t understand this show. I know how popular it is, but one cannot deny that its learning value is zero. What are the creatures supposed to be? And they don’t do anything except run and get silly with each other. My child used to watch this, and she only learned one thing: to roll around the floor. If it’s pure entertainment that you’re after, fine. But don’t spend too much time with this show.

6. Boobah: Ever wonder why this has a lot of similarities with Teletubbies (hint: strange-sounding out-of-this-world creatures)? It’s because they have the same creator. Aside from emitting light and sounds from their heads, these creatures don’t really do anything else. If Teletubbies won’t give your child nightmares, this one surely will.

7. The Simpsons: Don’t be fooled by the cartoon nature of the show. Ever listen to how Bart speaks to his dad, Homer? Or how about Homer strangling his son when he’s mad at him? Again – for a sane adult this stuff is pretty funny. But for kids? Nope. No way.

8. Pokemon: Pokemon seems to be innocent enough when you first watch it, but it actually breeds violence, animal abuse and hoarding. How many times have Team Rocket mugged Ash’s group and challenged them into a fight? And how do they fight? Through the animals they “collected” of course. This teaches kids that it’s okay to settle everything through a fight, and that you can use pets for it.

9. South Park: Why South Park was even created is beyond me. It’s full of bad languages, culture-stabbing and sexual topics. It is purely intended for adults who can see through the obvious offensive content.

10. iCarly: If anybody tells you that iCarly is okay for your kids, consider these facts. Carly is such a spoiled child that her brother needs to let her do anything she wants to do. Sam, another character on the show, randomly hits people and this will make your child thinks it’s okay to do so. What’s with the bra jokes? Do we need our 5 and 6 year old kids thinking this is the way to behave? Lastly, kids kissing on TV? A little kiss may be okay but I don’t think we want youngsters watching make-out sessions (lying down, no less). You must be kidding me.

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26 Responses to Good vs. Bad Shows: Choosing TV Shows for Kids

  1. Valerie May 25, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    I’d have to say that you hit it right on with this article. I am very particular when it comes to the TV shows that I let my daughter watch when she gets to watch TV. She (and I) are big fans of Dora the Explorer, Backyardigans, and Little Einsteins. I was very against Sponge Bob Square Pants and my husband loves that show. It took a little bit for my husband to understand why that show was completely inappropriate for our daughter, I went to the extreme of having him watch the show through the eyes of his 4 yr old little girl and he then understood! Thanks for your articles, I love reading them!

  2. Betsy Edwards May 25, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    I have to agree with Valerie, sometimes adults dont understand that certain programes as inocent as they seem to be, they can have a huge impact on our little ones behaviour, my little boy 31/2 used to be a huge fan of Ben 10 until I started noticing that his language began to get really agressive and unappropriate for a 3 yr old boy with words such as “stupid” or “Im going to kill you”" it really concerned me, my husband didn’t seem to think it was that serious until he heard our son himself and couldn’t believe the impact this kind of shows have on children which at that age don’t understand but we as parent must be very vigilant of it. I love reading your articles they are very guiding and encouraging, keep up the great work!

  3. Skeeta Thompson McKnight May 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    You have identified all if not most of the shows my 3 yr old son loves to watch and truly enjoys. Of course as a mother I And educator Iam fully aware of the sensitivity of his age,hence the reason why I couldn’t agree with you more. Bravo! Thanks for your informative article. Thanks Chris.

  4. Jim May 25, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

    Good article. Thanks.
    For young children I think “Big Big World” is great, teaching valuable life lessons in ways kids enjoy.
    My wife and I also plan to try the one day potty training method with our twins this weekend.

    • Chris Thompson May 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

      Hi Jim – thanks for the tip on the Big Big World show. I’ll check it out! Maybe it’s on Netflix (if I’m lucky). What is the one-day potty training method you’re considering? I’m obviously doing some research on this topic right now because so many people seem to want help with it.

  5. Lisiane May 25, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    Great article. I have a daycare and the kids are only allowed to watch 15 min. of TV every day, while I prepare their lunchs. I’m very concern about the quality of the shows that they watch. They love Dora and Barney. What do you think about Barney? Kids are between 18 months and 4 years old. Thanks.

    • Chris Thompson May 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

      I think Barney is totally fine. It encourages kids to relate with each other in a positive way, and it’s fun with all the musical aspects of it. Dora is great too. Very positive messages about helping people and solving problems.

  6. D. Bryham May 26, 2011 at 5:42 am #

    I love this article and i’m so glad that there are other parents out there who care what their child views on TV rather than letting them watch what ever, sometimes just in order for the parent to fit in in their social group. As sad as this sounds I have witnessed it myself..Their excuse is “oh all the kids are watching it and we watched stuff like that as kids and it didn’t harm us”. Well I do wonder about that sometimes… Thanks for the interesting article, very informative.

  7. Abir Taha May 26, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Hi Chris ,i like your article as always ..and i was really wondering about Hana Montana long time ago , why do they say its for children ..its not suitable at All for children that age as most of them they just copy what they watch on TV ,But its good to find that many ppl are aware of this thank you

  8. Mal May 27, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

    Excellent article Chris. I too am very particular about the shows my children watch.

    Some other great shows for your list:
    - Caillou – about a 4 yo boy learning about life – my 3.5 yo daughters fave show coz she relates to him so much!
    - Mr Maker – a craft show but very entertaining and creative
    - Peep and the Big Wide World – I think I love this show more than my kids at the mo. It’s a cartoon about 3 birds with science concepts taught – hard to explain, u need to check it out. Each episode includes real simple science experiments kids can try out. The free online games on their website are great too!

    I am running out of battery on my iPhone so I’ll leave it there :-)

  9. Sara May 30, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    Hi, I have a 5 year old. Although as parents we want similar things for our kids, we have the ongoing conversation about letting him watch g.I.Joe. This has got to be on your bad list! Just cause it’s a cartoon doesn’t make it ok. Please respond.

    • Chris Thompson May 30, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

      Hi Sara – I haven’t watched GI Joe before and my kids are more into girly stuff, but it’s been around for a long time even when I was a kid, and I think I would agree with you if I watched the show. Anything related to violence for young kids is not a good idea.

  10. Rob June 13, 2011 at 5:55 am #

    I’ve often worried about my little boy watching TV. We try to limit it to under 2 hours per day but some days he gets a little more. He’s only 3 1/2 and we limit it to the good ones on your list and a few others. I think a really good one is “Super Why” which is a show that engages and encourages children to read. It’s my favorite now.

  11. Kelly Newell June 17, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    BabyFirstTV has programing that is safe for little ones. If you haven’t check us out, I’d encourage you to take a look. It was developed by educational experts, and offers a variety of shows filled with numbers, animals, colors, music and more. Plus, it’s completely commercial-free and the shows are short, age appropriate, and well designed. My sister introduced it to me, and we LOVE it!

  12. Nissl June 23, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    What do you think about MLP: FiM? There’s a little bit of slapstick WB-style violence but it’s also an amazingly smart, well-executed show and teaches lessons really well.

    But I also think South Park, which is absolutely not a show for kids, is awesome for what it is, and delivers a pretty potent cultural critique underneath the coarse surface (well… from about season 4 onwards anyway). Diff’rent strokes.

  13. wendy August 3, 2011 at 5:04 am #

    I love all your articles-so practical, detailed and useful. My husband & I differ about the amount of TV and type of shows our son can watch. My husband watches tons of TV & they are usually NOT shows I can appreciate (wrestling, violent movies, RA). I don’t like my son to watch these with him. I also don’t like my son to watch scary animal shows like 60 deadliest animals with my Dad. They think these ‘tough’ MAN shows are suppose to make my son less scary cat, but it gives him nitemares!!! I’ve always wondered why certain shows are soooo popular with parents (many are in your DO NOT WATCH list) and I recently started to sway in my own thinking… I’m so happy to read your article cos it confirms I’m right in my assessment of ‘good’ & ‘bad’ shows for my son…I will be careful again. We are our childrens’ guardian so we must be responsible for what we put into their brain & body & heart. I’ll put something about your site on my blog soon, so that other mums can benefit as I have. THANK YOU! You make a difference!

  14. Jody August 14, 2011 at 2:52 am #

    I love this article! Thank you! I have a question: My daughter is 6 almost 7. She is getting out of the cartoon shows and wants Wizards of Waverly, Good Luck Charlies, I Carly, etc.. that I don’t approve of (by the way why aren’t they rated tv14?) So, what shows would you or anyone recommend please? She watches full house. But I can’t find anything else? Please I’m in need of suggestions!

    • Chris Thompson September 15, 2011 at 11:35 am #

      Hi Jody,

      Have you got Netflix? Not sure what country you are in but we have Netflix in Canada and it’s not even half as good as what’s available in the USA … but there are lots of kids shows to choose from so you’ll have a bigger opportunity set to choose from.

  15. Beki September 12, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    my 2 year old loves Teletubbies it help teached her how to say many words like Hello, Goodbye, and Me. she also learned how to do many dances. she also learned how to Jump and say the word Jump. its a silly fun show for little ones and YES it DOES teach somethings to your little ones. my 2 year old also LOVES Sesame Street she CAN NOT live with out that show. Sesame Street is her all time fav. she loves the old school episodes better than the new one. she watches Sesame Street Videos many times a day. i LOVE PBS shows for my babies ;)

  16. Caroline November 1, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    I completely disagree with this article. I was raised on all of the shows you deemed “bad” and I turned out just fine. If you think that Spongebob, iCarly, and some others are bad then you are looking for something bad in them. If a parent is concerned with the show and its violence and behavior then they should just talk to their children. All that is being taught to children by not allowing them to watch these shows is to resent you. They will rebel. If you teach the child the things in the show are bad then they should be able to watch it. I think that by taking the show away you are just AVOIDING the talk and the child will be influenced by other sources and end up doing the same anyway. Parents should just talk to their children about what they watch, this will cause the kids to feel open with you and not imitate the shows.

    • Chris Thompson November 2, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

      Caroline – thank you for your reply!

      Allow me to clarify my view (and I think we’ll agree but you let me know). When a child is young enough so they aren’t even aware of the so-called “bad” shows, I suggest not bothering to inform them about these options. There are BETTER shows out there for your kids to be watching.

      If they find out about some show that you’d rather they not watch, I agree. You can’t really get into a battle about it. You need to save the battles for more important matters, not kids TV. So in that case, you’d say, “It’s your choice” and educate them via discussion just as you pointed out.

      Chris

  17. Caroline November 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Yes! I agree. Parents just need to know their own limits as well. Monitoring the child’s television usage is important but knowing when to give them some freedom is also important. It is important for parents to instill the ideas in their children at a very young age because the child will make the right decision when they are a little older and are at a friends house or so. The discussion of right and wrong though is more important though than anything on television and its important for parents to just talk with their children.

  18. Julie November 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm #

    I appreciate your article and agree with most everything in it, except for one thing- I have come to completely disapprove of the show Ni Hao Kai Lan for my daughter. I do not agree with the manner in which they teach some of their ‘lessons’. For example, in one episode Kai Lan and friends were putting on a play and one of them (the monkey) got upset and stormed off. Kai Lan later realized that it was becaue he really wanted to play a different part in the play. So Kai Lan lets the monkey have that part because it means so much to him. The idea was that she was being kind and generous to the monkey in letting him have that part in the play. But really, what else is this teaching our kids? That whining and sulking is the way to get what you want? Nice. It may seem that I’m overreacting about this but this was just one of several things I saw in this show I did not agree with. Kai Lan is certainly not on any ‘good list’ of mine.

    • Chris Thompson November 28, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

      Hi Julie – I can understand your point of view on that particular item. I agree we don’t want to teach our kids to simply whine and moan whenever they don’t like something. That said, I think the overarching theme in the show is to understand other people’s perspectives. So I’m OK with the show. No show is perfect.

      In fact we should have less TV in our lives, period :)

      I’ll tell you a short story that made this resonate with me lately. My kids usually watch some TV in our bedroom before bed. We all hang out together. But lately, my wife and I might do something else (like read, or surf on the iPad) while the kids watch TV.

      So the other night my daughter and I (she’s 7 now) played cards. We played the game “crazy eights”. She watched zero TV that night and we had a total blast just playing cards together. It made me realize we don’t do stuff like that nearly enough. My younger daughter was playing a separate game (in the same room) with my wife. They had a blast too.

      I look forward to another night like that now!

  19. ruth January 24, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    great article but it still doesnt answer my question wy some tv shows arent appropriate for kids

  20. Madeline September 5, 2013 at 8:39 pm #

    I have to disagree. I understand that shows such as Glee and the Simpsons are obviously not directed towards children, but Hannah Montana? Really? I can’t think of anything said on that show that is inappropriate. All I have to say is strict parents only create sneaky rebellious children, and the scary thing is they will become so good at being sneaky that you may never know about it.

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