Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Television With Tots: Guilt Free Co-Viewing Recommendations

Kid-focused screen time recommendations to get the most out of viewing time.

Source: Pixabay

As parents, we have all heard the cry, “Can I watch TV? PLEEEZE?” or "I want to play a game on your iPad/Phone. Just for a while?"

As a psychologist and a mom, I struggle with screen time guilt on a daily basis. I feel guilty if there is too much and worried if I don’t find the content of a program thoroughly enriching. I constantly profess the benefits of media, including things like the presentation of new vocabulary words. Televisions, along with any mobile device activity, provide a means to observe happenings that are not easily accessible. Over the years, I have come to understand that that greatest thing we can do as parents is to provide an environment that promotes learning and exploration. If you have kids, you want their daily lives to be educational, entertaining, and fascinating. Here are some screen time recommendations to get you and your little one the most out of their viewing time. Since my friends and family members often ask me for advice, I have attempted on this day solidify all my thoughts into one helpful piece. Therefore, I present my screen time "nuggets of wisdom."

Select appropriate television/programming content and discuss it with children. Content should be chosen based on child’s current stage of development. Things to consider are the appropriateness of language, dramatic themes, and humor. Furthermore, content within a television program is an opportunity to talk about various exciting aspects of our enormous world. Asking questions are always helpful during television viewing. Try to avoid "static viewing" by responding to questions if characters address the audience. Parents as co-viewers or co-players can explain what is happening on screen, by pointing to interesting objects or simply ask the child if they like what they see on screen.

[Try your best] to limit access to about 2 hours per day screen time guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Most young viewers will want to watch or play games for minutes on end. Bear in mind that television viewing and portable device use is a privilege and not an all-day activity or replacement for reading or other supplementary educational activities (Krenn, 2016; Managing Media: We Need a Plan, 2013).

Be humorous during viewing. When grown-ups giggle, it is due to something being funny. Surprisingly, preschoolers mimic the laughter of adults. Two- and three-year-olds are prone to copycat laughter, which is a typical display of modeling as learning from adults in their environment. Things that preschoolers find funny are often impossible or inappropriate. Anything that goes against what children consider routine and predictable can trigger their sense of humor (Krenn, 2015; Simons, 2013). A wrong word or funny sound in responding to a character's onscreen question might get a little snicker which then opens to a smile which leads to reciprocal bond. Yes! Give an incorrect answer! Bonding while playing has shown to promote strong relationships and encourage healthy development (Krenn, 2015; Milteer et al., 2012).

Involvement is a key factor and determinant of what a child is understanding after viewing. Children sometimes see things outside the home. Parents can only control factors to a certain degree and in today's time, and peers are ever more a factor in media consumption. With proper guidelines and information, parents and children ought to see media as an enriching experience. If your child has questions about something they have seen outside the home, always discuss their uneasiness or confusion.

Television is not a full-time caregiver. The challenge for parents is not to use television as a “substitute babysitter.” Since children become enthralled with a show, it’s understandable why parents would want to use the opportunistic viewing time to give themselves a short break. I know because this is my life. As an educational psychology professional, I acknowledge all the negatives and positives of children watching television and yet; I have given in. I turn on Netflix just to give myself a short pause. Sometimes I do this because my active 4-year-old did not sleep last night or perhaps there is too much laundry to fold and well, sometimes I genuinely need to rest my weary bones. To be honest, my little one has only slept through the night a handful of times since infancy and as a parent attempting to have a career – little sleep and no break can be rough. I share this because we often don’t think about the individuals who represent the statistics in child screen time research.

Enjoy time with your child, even if it is with the entertainment of good quality television. And if you need to sit, don’t feel guilty if they watch a few minutes with you nearby in silent repose. Rest can help you can make it through your busy fun filled kid friendly day. In fact, my daughter just finished a 22-minute Sarah & Duck as I typed this incredible article you just read. I thank her and the BBC for the welcomed break.


Krenn, J. (2015, June 10). Appisode Applications: Tips & Developmental Recommendations for Disney, Jr.’s Interactive Entertainment. [Web log post]. Retrieved from…

Krenn, J. (2015, August 18). Humor, Screens & Children: Understanding a child's humor as stages applies to their programming. [Web log post]. Retrieved from…

Krenn, J. (2015, October 2). New Screen Suggestions by The American Academy of Pediatrics

Insights as a media professor and parent. [Web log post]. Retrieved from…

Managing Media: We Need a Plan (2013). Retrieved June 9, 2015, from…

Milteer, R. M., Ginsburg, K. R., Mulligan, D. A., Ameenuddin, N., Brown, A., Christakis, D. A., & Swanson, W. S. (2012). The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bond: focus on children in poverty. Pediatrics, 129(1), e204-e213.

Simons, C. (2013). Perspectives on the Development of Humor during Infancy, Childhood, and Adolescence. Humor and Aging, 53.

About the Author:

Jamie L. Krenn holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology: Cognitive Studies from Teachers College, Columbia University. She currently oversees a masters program at Teachers College, Columbia University entitled “Children’s Media: Analysis & Evaluation. Additionally, Jamie is the Chief Learning Officer at CoHatchery, a family-friendly work environment allowing parents to integrate their workday with their child's day. Her research interest includes the socio-emotional effects of media, children’s educational television, and culinary cognition.

More from Jamie Krenn Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today