8 Ways TV Can Be a Good Resource for Kids

Growing up, I watched a lot of TV. Both my parents worked. My brother was 5-years older and wouldn’t have anything to do with me. We lived on top of a steep hill where it was impossible to ride your bike and hang out with the neighborhood kids, much less even know them. So what else was I going to do?

I have to admit I pretty much watched it from the moment I got home until the moment I went to bed. I watched it while I had my after school snack and while I did my homework.

And it wasn’t all cartoons either. Back then cartoons only ran until a certain hour, remember? So I started watching other programs too. I learned about making whoopee from The Newlywed Game, about the cost of living from The Price is Right, about sexuality and discrimination from Three’s Company. I learned about senseless acts of violence from Tom & Jerry, grown-up concerns from The Flintstones, and about pettiness from The People’s Court. I watched cooking shows and game shows and shows that taught you how to paint.

When my parents came home, the babysitter didn’t go away. It never went away. We all gathered together and watched some more. I wasn’t shielded from the nightly news either. I saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, knew about Chernobyl, followed along during the Iran Contra affair. I saw the Challenger shuttle explode, learned about AIDS, and the goopy mess that was Exxon-Valdez. And I think I’m a better person for all of it.

I understand that shows are different now – that there are so many channels. That kids can get an eyeful of some hardcore sex and violence. That obesity is on the rise. And so is ADHD. But I don’t think you can blame all ills on TV. It’s all a matter of how you use it.

I’m also aware of the huge rise in awesome educational cartoons that focus on mathscience, or language arts. We had Sesame Street. Maybe a couple others. But not as many as there are today. No Nat Geo Kids. No Bill Nye the Science Guy. None of that.

There are so many benefits to watching TV – trust me, I don’t advocate for endless hours of it. And handing over the remote doesn’t have to mean giving up on parental controls. But you should let your children spend some time in front of the tube and here’s why:

Let Them Become Their Own Person

You have to cut the umbilical cord. Your child is not a mini version of you. You can set parameters – whether they’re time limits, a smaller cable package, or parental controls. But then you should allow your child to develop their own personality. Unless you want to assume full responsibility for exposing your little one to everything under the sun, flipping through channels lets your child explore new interests and spend time on subjects that pique their curiosity.

Your child may be hungry for knowledge that you don’t have, or maybe facts you’ve forgotten. So give them a chance to discover. You’ll be giving them the opportunity to learn on their own and create their own world – without an adult authority figure. And that will make their learning so much sweeter.

Help Them Build Language Skills

Do you have any idea about the chances of getting a job writing for TV? Shows and networks are always looking for top talent. And landing a job like that is highly competitive. We’re lucky to have some amazing writers developing superb quality shows. And with them comes good exposure to new vocabulary, idioms, and word play.

Aside reading (also a must!) there is no other way for your little one to continuously build language skills at home. New words mean new concepts and ideas. Your child’s imaginative play is limited by the words they already have under their belt. And your conversations tend, for the most part, to be confined to certain topics. Watching TV and strengthening those language skills greatly broadens their horizons.

Develop a Sense of Humor

Humor can’t really be taught. It has to be experienced. And unless you’re adept at sprinkling jokes throughout your conversation, showing sarcasm without being rude, and incorporating some good old-fashioned slapstick into dinner preparations, you’re best off leaving it to TV.

Give a Glimpse into the Grown Up World

Let’s face it… it’s a kids’ world. Children are shielded from practically everything. From chores and responsibilities to making their own decisions and suffering the consequences, understanding money matters, and other adult concerns, they’re totally oblivious. As parents, we struggle with the daily dilemma of protecting vs. pampering. And our children are likely going to suffer in the long run, without the skills for all that lies ahead.

Watching TV together – and by that, I mean shows geared for the whole family – gives kids a glimpse into adult issues… and usually with solutions on how to deal with challenges. They’ll see variations of what you may struggle with – concerns around work, in-laws, purchases, meals, divorce, finding time for yourselves, etc. And they just might understand that their most pressing need isn’t at the center of the universe.

Teach What’s Going on in the World

Too many parents shield their kids from the nightly news. No, it doesn’t have to be whatever sensationalist stuff Fox is offering up. But protecting your little ones from world events – be they disasters or achievements – is cutting them off from history in the making.

If you’re looking to raise a global citizen (crucial!) or someone who isn’t completely egocentric, it’s important for kids to know that there is an outside world. There are people with different realities from their own. There are concerns important enough for a global discussion.

I mentioned the Challenger disaster earlier. We were all so excited to send off the first teacher into space. We gathered around our sets at home and in school, in anticipation of the incredible event. And we were all horrified with the outcome.

But there was solidarity. There were discussions. And children were included. Since then, we’ve grown up with our lives peppered with important world events that made us smile, or made us cry. Don’t our kids deserve the same? What would you be shielding them from anyway… reality?

Facilitate Social Connections

As adults, we start off business meetings with references to the TV shows and ball games. We sit around with friends drinking lattes and talking about intriguing plots and new character developments. Well, the same types of conversations take place on the playground and in the classroom. You want your child to be able to connect and socialize. An important aspect is what’s on TV. After all, television has been a cultural medium for over half a century. It’s just as valid a conversation starter, learning tool, and new friend maker as any other.

Teach Humility

In our “good job” parenting world where kids are constantly getting a high five or a thumbs up for every little achievement, they can soon feel like super stars. Unfortunately, the sentiment isn’t always founded. And when they’re wrong about something, or they simply don’t know the answer, they’re so fragile trying to live up to some unachievable level of perfection. They’re unable to take risks. And that means they’re unable to really learn.

Children need to know that they don’t know everything. They need to understand humility and yet strive to learn more. Tell them they’re wrong and you’re faced with a tantrum – or anxiety, or a crippled level of confidence, or a sense of failing to please.

Instead, make a tradition of TV game shows. Simple ones… like Family Feud or Wheel of Fortune. Kids can participate in games, and lose without any penalty. They can watch others try and still get it wrong. They can see winners elated while the losers continue to clap along.

Strengthen Empathy and Coping Skills

Allowing your children to watch TV helps them build empathy skills. With other kids in lead roles, they immediately identify with the characters and have a view into what makes them tick. Couple that with some real-world conflict (bullies, poor grades, divorce, etc.), and your child will be understanding different ways of coping before they’re even hit with an issue.

Characters will make entertaining (or dangerous!) mistakes so your kids won’t have to. And watching others deals with similar problems will bear witness to the fact that your child is not alone, whatever the ordeal.

What were your TV rules at home growing up, and what are they now?

Tags : TV   development   

Deborah Essner
Growing up, we had few limitations on television as well. I gleaned much about adult romantic relationships from watching The Love Boat!