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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