By now, most parents have heard about studies that discourage exposing very young children to television. But the reality is that almost three-quarters of infants and toddlers are exposed to TV programs before they turn 2. So what exactly are the dangers? Is co-viewing television with children an effective way of combating all the negatives?
A lot of children today are spending more time in front of a television than engaging in outdoor activities. This has resulted in a sizable increase in the number of shows for children, some having become more popular than others. Children usually watch television on their own, sans any parental guidance, especially in nuclear families and households with working parents.
The television continues to be a big influence in a young child’s life. And while one cannot control the content of the shows, as a parent you can, at least, help them think about what they see and learn from it. Co-viewing or watching television with your child allows you to have an open conversation about what they watch on television and in some cases help them learn important concepts. You can use the medium to talk about many topics like how to behave, how to manage feelings, learn good values or even concepts like words and numbers. There is no denying the fact that the appropriateness and co-viewership of the children’s shows is a vital element for any learning.
The co-viewing experience can greatly vary depending on your child’s age, the format of the television show, and your child’s interest. However, you can begin by choosing a show that offers some learning and is enjoyed by your child. Or you can watch an existing show that your child likes and then have a conversation about it. Here are some ideas for watching television with your child:
Interactivity is the key: There are certain shows which promote participation in some way, like posing a question directly to the child or encouraging them to sing along or count. As a parent, you can encourage your child to sing along, count or repeat words or phrases. It is true that children are more likely to understand the content of these programs when they respond to a character’s interactive questions or repeat the information.
Ask questions: Another way to engage with your child is to ask questions about what they have watched. This is an effective way to draw your child’s attention to the characters and their intentions, the story line and the message. You can ask questions like “what did the characters do”, “how did they feel”, “what happened in the story”, “do you think the character should have said that”’, “what was your favorite part” etc.
Make Connections: You can also help your child connect what they watch on TV with their real life. For example, you can help them remember a field trip to a park or a zoo when you watch a show on animals; or recall a time when they felt sad or happy when a character feels that way on the show.
Make predictions: Encourage your child to speculate what will happen next. The purpose of this question should not be to get a correct answer but to encourage children to make predictions, which helps develop a scientific attitude. You can ask questions like “what do you think will happen next in the story”, or “why do you think this character took her toy” to get them to reflect and answer.
Controlling negative impacts: Research shows that the impact of television on children can be controlled if programs are watched in the presence of adults and if there is sufficient interaction and discussion. A co-viewing adult can make television viewing an active process and can facilitate learning from it. Talk to children about what they see on TV and share your own beliefs and values. If you find something that you don’t approve of on the screen, you can turn off the TV and use the opportunity to ask thought-provoking questions such as, “Do you think it was OK when those men got in that fight?”, “What else could they have done?”, “What would you have done?”
So yes, children’s television shows do have the potential to be educational for young children. But not all children’s TV programs are created equal. While some provide a good learning platform for young children, others are better suited to entertainment purposes only. Generally speaking, learning and enjoyment can be greatly enhanced by parent-child co-viewing when parents ask questions and provide feedback and encouragement to children.