Where kids are concerned, TV and movies get a bad rap, but with healthy viewing habits and parental supervision, limited “screen time” can be a positive experience for children. Here some ways children can benefit from watching TV and movies:
TV can help kids learn about a variety of subjects.
If there’s a subject your child enjoys, more likely than not, there is a TV show, movie, or educational DVD that explores the subject in detail. You might be even be surprised to find out how many kids watch and love educational shows aimed at adults. Rachael Ray, for example has a huge following among kids and tweens, and her primetime show often features kids in the kitchen.
Children’s shows, whether they bill themselves as “educational” or not, may offer opportunities to spark learning. For instance, was your child wowed by the Red Eyed Tree Frog on Go, Diego, Go!? Go online to look at pictures and read about the frog. In this way, kids are able to see how fun learning can be and establish a habit of finding out more when things interest them.
Documentary and nature shows are also entertaining and educational for kids. A great example: Meerkat Manor, on the Animal Planet, makes a soap opera out of meerkat life and has kids hooked on the drama.
Through media, kids can explore places, animals, or things that they couldn’t see otherwise.
Most kids are not able to visit the rain forest or see a giraffe in the wild, but many have seen these things on TV. Thankfully, educationally minded producers have given us many shows and movies that allow viewers to see amazing footage of nature, animals, society, and other peoples. Kids and adults alike can learn from this type of media and gain a greater appreciation for our world and the animals and other people who inhabit it.
TV shows can inspire kids to try new activities and engage in "unplugged" learning.
When kids see their favorite characters engaged in fun learning games, they want to play too. Kids also like learning activities more if they involve beloved characters. Preschoolers’ shows are especially effective for generating ideas for learning activities and using characters to motivate kids.
If you have a child who loves Blue’s Clues, for example, you can create clues and a riddle for them to solve at home, or challenge your child to create the riddle and clues. Or, turn a regular activity into a challenge and encourage your child to solve it like the Super Sleuths do.
TV and movies can motivate kids to read books.
Of the new movies that are released each year, you can bet that several of them are based on books. Parents can challenge kids to read a book with the promise of going to the theater or renting the movie when they finish it. Or, kids may see a movie and like it so much that they decide to read the book. Discuss the differences between the book and the movie to help kids develop thinking skills.
Kids can build analytical skills by discussing media.
What do you think will happen next? Who did it? What will the result be? What could that character have done instead? Asking these types of questions as you co-view with your children will help them learn to think, problem solve, and predict, making TV viewing a more active experience. More important than just memorizing facts, developing thinking skills will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Also, remember those compare/contrast tests in school? You can help prepare kids for this type of literary thinking by discussing programs with them. Compare and contrast characters or shows. Who is the main character? Describe the plot. What was the setting and main idea? What was the conflict and how was it resolved? Use TV time to help kids practice for all those essay tests, and they might find that talking about this stuff can be interesting and fun!
Parents can use TV to help kids learn the truth about advertising.
Advertising may be annoying, but it does present yet another opportunity to develop kids’ thinking skills. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, young children may not even know the difference between programs and commercials. They are just soaking it all in and applying it to their reality. As a parent, you can explain the purpose of advertising to your kids and alert them to any deceptive tactics. Allow them to analyze the methods used by advertisers to sell a product.
Good role models and examples on TV can positively influence kids.
Children are influenced by people they see on television, especially other kids. Obviously, this can have a negative result, but it can be positive too. Lately, kids' TV shows have begun promoting some positive agendas such as healthy living and environmental awareness. As kids see their favorite characters making positive choices, they will be influenced in a good way. Parents can also point out positive traits that characters display and thereby spark valuable family discussions.
Daniel Anderson, a prominent researcher on the subject, sums up the situation with children and media perfectly stating, “I hope the broader impact of my research will increase awareness at many levels so that we can be cognizant of both the promise and the peril of what we are doing.” Media truly can have a positive effect on children, but it is up to the parents, caregivers and educators in their lives to ensure that kids’ viewing experiences are enriching and not damaging.