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Watching What

Our Child Watches

Is Good for Us Both


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Most educators and child psychologists believe it’s best to limit the amount of time children spend watching TV and streaming content. However, many also believe there is value in children being allowed to have some screen time. Children can gain knowledge from programs like Sesame Street, Peg + Cat, and Dinosaur Train; increase their understanding of family relationships with a show like Puffin Rock; learn how to handle their emotions by watching Daniel Tiger; and think about the difference between right and wrong while laughing along with Clifford the Big Red Dog. 

Of course, viewing programs on a screen isn’t the only way children gain knowledge and facts or learn about emotions and family relationships. Home, school, and community are the real-life places where children come in contact with them. However, as a story in a book can reflect daily life, teach us meaningful lessons about ourselves and others, and help us understand our own lives better, so, too, can quality TV or streaming programs. The examples cited above are in the quality category and can be found on multiple types of electronic devices.

Before our children watch a program unfamiliar to them or us, it pays to do a little homework first. The site, Common Sense Media, is a good place to start when selecting programming for our children. Its large data base of shows provides reviews and assigns appropriate age ranges for each. There are also parental reviews, so we get the opinion of people just like us as well as the experts. 

As well as the importance of the quality of the shows we choose to allow our children to watch, educators and psychologists are all also pretty much in agreement that the benefits to the child are far greater when programs are viewed with a parent than when viewed alone. This is called co-viewing. The relationship changes from one between the child and the program to one between the child and the parent, which gives the parent the ability to engage with the child, opening up a world of benefits for both.

The Learning Experience Can Be Expanded
Let’s say we’re watching an episode of Sesame Street with our child and it’s being brought to us by the number seven. As the Count is counting seven objects on the screen, we can encourage our child to count along with him; place seven crayons in front of our child and ask them to count them; or any other number of activities that will engage the child with the parent as well as what is going on, on the screen. The engagement can continue after the program is over with the parent continuing to do activities featuring the number, like having the child select seven books they like from their bookshelf, counting seven red cars in the grocery store parking lot, or counting out seven groups of seven pieces of macaroni from the child’s art supplies. 

The possibilities of reinforcing what is being taught on the screen in real life are endless. The concept of the number becomes familiar to the child as something palpable in their life. The same can be done for shows dealing with grammar, history, science, cooking, the environment, and anything else factual. By introducing the facts into the child’s actual life, understanding is increased, and the information will remain in the child’s memory. 


Abstract Ideas Can Be Clarified
Perhaps we’re watching an episode of Daniel Tiger  with our child and it’s   focused on an emotion like jealousy. We can ask the child if they understand the emotion as it is being described and clarify it for them if they don’t. Once we know the child understands what jealousy is, we can ask them questions like: Have you ever had that feeling? When did you have it? Why did you feel that way? Do you still feel that way? What did Daniel do to make the feeling go away? Do you think you can do the same thing to make the feeling go away if you still have it or if it happens again? 

Open-ended questions allow the child to think about the matter, come up with their own solutions, and listen to any advice you have to offer them. The child can also be reminded of Daniel’s experience and his method for handling it when the parent is aware the same thing is happening to their child by the parent saying, “Do you remember when Daniel Tiger felt that way? Do you remember how he handled it? Would you like to try doing the same thing? Now that you have, do you feel better?” 

Seeing a beloved character experiencing a difficult emotion like jealousy also makes the child aware they are not alone and that others feel that way, too. Handling similar abstract ideas the child sees their favorite characters going through on TV the same way helps them understand the emotion and how to better handle it when they are met with it in their own lives.


A Further Bond Can Be Created between Parent and Child
When we watch programs with our child, the activity comes to be seen by the child as something else they do with us. It will become natural for them to watch with us and engage with us about what is on the screen during the program and afterward. It also gives parent and child another point of reference and way to connect. Our children may get to the point where they are the ones asking the questions about what is happening on-screen or referencing a favorite character’s experience when something similar happens in their own lives.

Experiencing life as it happens and getting information from teachers and parents are the best ways for children to learn. When we make quality program viewing with our children interactive, however, we can help them expand their learning, understand even more, and provide them with another way of looking at the marvels around them. When children and parents watch together, they share ideas and feelings that also strengthen their understanding of one another.

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