My kids watch TV. My four-year-old daughter, Binnybeans, loves her PBS kids shows: Peg + Cat, Super Why, and even Sesame Street. (Though she sometimes says she watches it for her one-year-old brother because Budgie loves Elmo.) Sometimes we throw in a little Splash and Bubbles, Dinosaur Train, or Daniel Tiger, too. She loves them.
For a long time, I hated that she loved them. If she loved these shows, it meant that I let her watch so much TV that she formed and emotional connection with the TV. And kids who watch that much TV are products of lazy, uncaring, inattentive parents. Bad parents who don’t read to their kids, make them exercise, or encourage them to learn new things.
The truth is, I use the TV as a tool to help my kids learn new things. I am by no means trained as an early childhood educator. I’m a writer and computer scientist. If my daughter wanted to learn some PHP or the form of a sestina, I’m there for her. But she’s four. She wants to learn about math, logic, shapes, reading, etc. And I don’t know how to teach those topics to a four-year-old. Sure, I can break a word down into letters and help her sound it out. But that may not be the best way to do it.
So I bring in the experts. Educational children’s shows are written by people who know how to convey these topics in a way that the kids understand them. They repeat the concepts in different scenarios so the concepts sink in, almost subliminally. The writers know how to help little minds learn in a way that I don’t.
When Binnybeans was going to daycare, I trusted her teachers to help with that education. They also have the training and MUCH more experience than I do. But while I’ve been unemployed, that teaching has fallen to me. Sure, I can browse Pinterest for educational activities (and I do!), but not every day can be massive hands-on activity day. Some days I need to be job searching or blogging. Some days Budgie is sick or angrily teething. Some days I’m just wiped out from dealing with all of the above. So I bring in her televised friends to help her learn.
I always used to go to that remote with a certain trepidation and shame. But a recent University of Michigan study relieves some of that guilt. It studied about 300 low-income families about their children’s viewing habits. One of the takeaways was that quality is more important than quantity. If the child is watching educational, age-appropriate television, it can actually be good for the kid. Especially in low-income families, where access to additional educational resources are scarce, learning programs fill the gaps parents are unable to fill.
Furthermore, parents report positive experiences watching TV with their kids. Parents love watching their kids learn. I enjoy watching my daughter make sense of the math problems on Peg + Cat. I can see those little wheels turning in her head while she figures out the “greater than or less than” problem on the screen. It thrills me to hear her sounding out the words in Super Why as I make lunch for the kids.
Now, TV isn’t perfect. Kids who watch more TV are still more likely to be obese. But that may come from other factors, too. Low-income kids are more likely to be obese and they tend to watch more TV. But is that cause and effect? Other studies show that low-income neighborhoods lack sufficient access to healthy food. Obviously, if you aren’t eating healthy it doesn’t matter how much TV you watch or don’t watch; you won’t be healthy. TV isn’t the only reason why childhood obesity is the problem that it is.
It all comes down to the right recipe. Just like with my kids meals, I don’t want them to eat all junk, or eat too much. It’s a balance. I make sure I’m feeding them healthy, educational programming. I turn off the TV and read to them, too. Moderation, people. Moderation.
So let the shamers come. Let the guilt-trippers say I’m ruining my kids because I let them watch TV. Scientific studies show that I’m not. My daughter is a bright girl who already does math, writes, and reads and she’s not even in 4K yet. And where did she learn some of that? From the TV.
I raise my remote to you, the conscientious consumers of cartoons, the parents of preschool programming. To those of us who use TV as an educational tool and monitor what our kids watch, I applaud as best I can with a remote in my hand. It’s ok.
Share this with other parents, too. Let them know they aren’t alone, shame-watching Odd Squad. And share here: what educational shows do your kids love?