Most parents have heard the saying “TV rots your brain,” but fortunately, a new study by researchers at Texas Tech University has found that not all television (including YouTube) is harmful to kids. During conversations with other parents you might discover that several of them have children who are really into Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood spin-off. 1-4-year-olds seem to be the age group that is especially enamored with the show. The show has songs about counting to four to help kids calm down, about flushing the toilet, brushing your teeth, washing your hands, and so on. Parents know that these types of TV shows help their children but there is actually very little research that explores the effects of TV shows that try to teach social skills to kids. This led to a group of researchers to conduct a study about Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Here is what the researchers did to conduct the study:
- The researchers enrolled 127 preschoolers and one of each of their parents in the study.
- Over a two-week period, they had some of the kids watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood for 30 minutes each day, while some of the kids watched 30 minutes of a nature documentary each day.
- They then interviewed the kids and played some special games with them that allowed the researchers to measure certain social skills—empathy, recognizing emotions, and social confidence. Each of these three skills are part of what makes up “school readiness,” and are good predictors of success in kindergarten and beyond.
Results Of The Daniel Tiger Study
Did watching Daniel Tiger help children learn these important social skills? The short answer is yes. However, the long answer is a little more complicated. The children in the study who watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood had higher levels of empathy, were generally better at recognizing emotions, and were more confident in social situations than the children who only watched the nature television show. This is particularly true for low-income children and kids ages 4 and younger.
Children experienced the above benefits only when their parents regularly talk with them about what’s on television or YouTube. In other words, the researchers found that it was the combination of watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and the conversations parents had with the kids about the show that produced increases in social skills. It was clear that neither letting the child watch the show alone, nor a conversation alone, was enough. It takes both watching and discussion to have positive results.
Here are some ideas to help you get these important conversations started:
- Point out the good things that TV characters like Daniel Tiger do. If Daniel Tiger shares a cupcake with a friend, tell your child that you love it when people share and that sharing shows that you care. Even through in the phrase “sharing is caring” if you think your child will understand its meaning.
- Repeat the lesson being taught by the show afterward and continuously when opportunities arise to discuss the moral of the story. If Daniel Tiger calms himself down by counting to four, help your child do the same “just like Daniel Tiger” the next time it is time to calm down.
- Ask your kid questions about television or YouTube content in order to get them thinking about how they can apply the lesson in their own life. If Daniel Tiger is not sure about whether to apologize or not, ask your child what he or she would do in that situation.
The Parenting Lesson To Be Learned
For parents, the big takeaway from this study is that you need to come up with your own ways to reinforce positive television and YouTube show messages. The more conversations you have with your kid the better the outcome. Parent-to-child communication is key in early childhood development.
When your kids hit those boring mid-summer days and want to lay around and watch YouTube or television, you have options. There are many shows that you can let your kids watch without feeling guilty such as those on PBS Kids. And if you stay actively involved in your kids’ multimedia activities, those lazy days of summer can turn into valuable learning experiences for your kids. That isn’t lazy parenting. It’s working smarter not harder to teach valuable life lessons.
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