By Claire G. Christensen and Kate Zinsser, University of Illinois at Chicago
As a parent or educator, you’ve heard it before: violent TV creates violent children. But, what about TV shows that depict getting along with others, solving problems, or handling emotions constructively? If kids can learn to fight from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, can they also learn to share from Daniel Striped Tiger? Researchers have explored whether TV can promote social-emotional skills like cooperating and self-regulation—skills that support children’s academic and social success. Based on their work, here are some key facts about the effects of positive social-emotional content in kids’ TV:
Positive TV content can help. When TV characters demonstrate social-emotional skills, children can learn from them. Television shows that depict sharing, getting along with others, or rejecting stereotypes can improve those skills in children (Mares & Woodard, 2005). Children may also benefit from TV shows that encourage emotion regulation, befriending diverse children, and solving problems responsibly, although this research is less conclusive (Christensen, 2013).
Content matters. Some children’s TV programs improve social-emotional skills; others don’t. Even among educational TV shows, some series and episodes have more positive social and emotional content than others (Christensen & Myford, in press). Here are two guidelines that may help you pick TV shows with strong social-emotional content.
Consider your child’s age. TV with positive social-emotional content is more likely to improve social-emotional skills in elementary-school-aged children. It has less of an effect on toddlers and adolescents (Christensen, 2013; Mares & Woodard, 2005). Trying to improve your two-year-old’s social and emotional skills? TV may not be your best option. Instead, try talking and reading stories about feelings.
Get involved. Help your child learn by talking about positive behaviors in his or her favorite TV show. Children are more likely to learn social-emotional skills from TV when their parents and teachers get involved (Christensen, 2013). Not sure how to get the conversation going? Here are two ideas:
Social-emotional skills promote positive behavior and academic success. Many factors encourage these skills—especially warm, supportive relationships with parents and teachers. Television programs which depict these skills, if chosen carefully and followed with discussion, can help to reinforce kids’ budding social-emotional competencies.
Christensen, C. G. (May, 2013). Effects of prosocial television on children’s social and emotional competencies: A systematic review. Paper presentation in a symposium at the annual meeting of the Midwest Psychological Association, Chicago, IL.
Christensen, C. G., & Myford, C. M. (in press). Measuring social and emotional content in children’s television: An instrument development study. Journal of Broadcsting & Electronic Media, 58.
Mares, M.-L., & Acosta, E. E. (2008). Be kind to three-legged dogs: Children’s literal interpretations of TV’s moral lessons. Media Psychology, 11, 377-399.
Mares, M.-L., & Woodard, E. (2005). Positive effects of television on children’s social interactions: A meta-analysis. Media Psychology, 7, 301–322.