In an article from PBS, the common thinking that television is harmful to your child is reassessed.
New research shows some TV helps kids
Fortunately, a new study by researchers at Texas Tech University has found that not all TV is bad. I know, that is news. During a conversation not too long ago with some research colleagues I discovered that several of us had children who were really into Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. My then 4-year-old daughter seemed to be especially enamored with the show — she sang songs about counting to four to help her calm down, about flushing the toilet and washing her hands, and about grown-ups coming back. Knowing that very little research explores the effects of TV shows that try to teach social skills to kids, we decided that we just had to conduct a study about Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Here’s what we did:
- We enrolled 127 preschoolers and one of each of their parents in our study.
- Over a two-week period, we had some of the kids watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhoodfor 30 minutes each day, while some of the kids watched 30 minutes of a nature documentary each day.
- We then interviewed the kids and played some special games with them that allowed us to measure certain social skills—empathy, recognizing emotions, and social confidence. Each of these three skills are part of what makes up “school readiness,” and are good predictors of success in kindergarten and beyond.
So, did watching Daniel Tiger help kids learn these important social skills? The short answer—yes. The long answer—there’s a catch. Here’s what we found. Kids in the study who watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood had higher levels of empathy, were better at recognizing emotions, and were more confident in social situations than the kids who watched the nature show. This is especially true for low-income children and kids ages 4 and younger.
The catch? Kids experienced the above benefits only when their parents regularly talk with them about what’s on TV. In other words, the study found that it was the combination of watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and parent-child conversations about TV that produced increases in children’s social skills. Neither watching the show alone, nor talking alone, was enough. It takes both.
Other studies show the same thing—parent-child conversations about media content help children learn the good things that shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood teach. Here are some ideas to help you get these much-needed conversations started:
- Point out the good things that TV characters do. If Daniel Tiger shares a cupcake with a friend, tell your child that you love it when people share.
- Repeat the lesson being taught by the show. If Daniel Tiger calms himself down by counting to four, help your child do the same the next time it’s time to calm down.
- Ask your child questions about content in order to get them thinking about how they can apply the lesson in their own life. If Daniel Tiger isn’t sure about whether or not to apologize, ask your child what s/he would do in that situation.
Whether you use these ideas or come up with your own ways to reinforce positive TV messages, the important thing is to start talking with your kids about what they see on TV. The more conversations the better.