Science of Parenting: Children and TV

AMES, Iowa – Parents need to know what their kids are watching on television and steer them toward the “good stuff.” The trick is determining what the good stuff is. That’s the topic of this month’s Science of Parenting podcast from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“Nobody is going to be able to tell you which show is really the best one for your kid,” says Shalom Fisch, president and founder of MediaKidz Research and Consulting, which provides educational content development and testing for children’s media. “Most shows are not purely good or purely bad. They’re a mixture. … It’s really a question of finding what’s the right fit for your kid and for your family and the kinds of messages that you want to be getting across.”

During the 30-minute Science of Parenting podcast, Fisch discusses children and television with program host Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology and extension specialist at Iowa State, and co-host Mike Murray, who brings a “parent-on-the-street perspective” to the program.

The podcast is available for free download from the Science of Parenting website or can be subscribed to in iTunes.

Before founding MediaKidz, Fisch spent 15 years as vice president for program research at Sesame Workshop, where he oversaw curriculum development and a number of television series and other projects.

Research over the past 10 years shows that children spend more time watching TV than they spend in school, playing outside or engaged in just about anything else except sleeping, Fisch said. If they’re watching mindless, violent, negative stuff, then this is a scary statistic, he said.

On the other hand, research shows that just as violent programming promotes violent behavior and negative programming promotes negative behavior in children, “positive, educational television does promote significant learning among children, positive attitudes toward school and toward learning, and knowledge in all sorts of subject areas,” Fisch said. “From that standpoint, the amount of time that kids are spending with television actually becomes something of an opportunity.”

He added, “The point to keep in mind is that TV, in and of itself, is neither a good thing or a bad thing. TV is a medium. There’s good stuff on TV and there’s bad stuff on TV.”

Fisch acknowledged that parents have more control over what their younger children watch on TV and older children make more of their own viewing decisions. But parents can monitor what their children watch from time to time, no matter their children’s ages.

Said Gentile, “When parents watch TV with their kids and talk to them about what they’re seeing and hearing, that seems to mitigate most of the negatives and really enhances what they learn from the positives.”

Added Fisch, “I don’t believe everything has to be educational; I think there’s room for just fun, too.”

Download Science of Parenting Podcasts

The Science of Parenting offers research-based parenting advice from experts across the country. The monthly podcasts are available for free download from the Science of Parenting website, or can be subscribed to in iTunes. Each month a new, 30-minute Science of Parenting program, as well as previous programs, will be available, as well as blog posts and other research-based parenting information.