Mar 162013
 

A constant source of friction in my family is that I’m not a fan of screen time for my kid. I’m not exactly “pro” screen time for other kids, but my kid in particular has always had trouble regulating his mood after watching anything on a screen. Predictably, this is a problem because he LOVES it. And he’s in Elementary school, well past the age where kids are allowed to see the odd show or play a video game now and then. In addition to limiting his total screen time, there have always been certain shows (giant purple dinosaur, anyone?) that are completely off limits. But now there has been a new study released that suggests we may want to be even more selective.

What are they really learning?

“I learned this from Shaun!”

This article presents some findings that suggest that some kinds of TV shows are worse for kids than others. That and the idea that so called “educational” shows are actually educating our children to behave in ways we don’t like may have been a wake-up call for some. At our house it quantified a frustrating trend we had already noticed- our kid picks up the negative behaviors without grasping the purpose that behavior serves in the overall plot. I hope the writers of children’s programs are paying attention to that research, because even some shows that used to be favorites of ours have introduced story lines we find concerning. I’m sure it’s hard, over the run of a popular show, to avoid it all the time. But it’s really frustrating to realize that suddenly your kid’s favorite show seems to have taken a turn for the worse.

In addition to the programming that is actually harmful, there is a lot more that is annoying for one reason or another- whiny tones of voice, obnoxious and repetitive music, and more. By the time you get down that list, you’ve pretty much, at my house anyway, laid waste to the field. There are three shows (currently available streaming on Netflix) that are still on my good list, and here they are. (They’re in no particular order.)

Dinosaur Train: Although it does sugar coat a few biological realities, most of what is presented on this show is scientifically accurate. (At least, as far as we, as total laypeople, have been able to discover.) The characters cooperate and use their words when they have a problem. The show introduces new vocabulary. The songs are original and not too repetitive. The characters use spoken English that sounds normal, not stilted or affected. Last, but not least- Dinosaurs + Trains = win.
Sesame Street: Yes, it’s an oldie but it’s a goodie. The classic episodes and the new ones are all available, streaming, on Netflix. Characters practice inclusive social skills. Elmo does get on my very last nerve, but the reading and math skills that they throw out during the show make up for it, in my opinion. The celebrity guests expose my kids to popular culture in ways that are actually appropriate for children. (My littlest has developed what looks like an itty bitty crush on one of the Dixie Chicks- he just loves the way she sings about the letter “B.”) Mr. Noodle is wacky without being offensive, and, besides, who doesn’t love Big Bird?
The “All About” series: These are not fictional but kid-sized documentaries about everything from farming to airplanes. (Monster Trucks are a particular favorite around here.) These are informative, offer openings to introduce further exploration, and feature real people. They offer the equivalent of a real-world ride-along from the safety of home. Some of the footage may be “dated,” but that can also mean that it’s “classic” or “timeless.” They offer a great jumping off point for learning about how things work without any nonsense.

Have you got a suggestion for me? Put it down there in the comment box. Until then, check out Better Than TV.

Thank you G & A Sattler for the use of this photo via Flickr Creative Commons.

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