Why You Should Watch TV with Your Child

Research has shown that television can be educational for young children. For example, years of research on Sesame Street has shown that the show can improve preschoolers’ abilities in a variety of academic areas, like reading, math and social skills. In general, when television programs are designed to be age-appropriate and when the content aligns with its educational purpose, pre-school aged children can learn from television.

But television has its limitations in being an educational tool, especially for young children. Although television can be beneficial for children’s learning, young children learn best from people who can respond to their questions and direct their attention. For example, one study found that 12- to 18-month year olds did not learn any new words from watching an educational video (Baby Einstein) over four weeks, but they did learn the same words when their parent taught them through natural interactions.

Most important, parents can help young child learn from television by watching television with them, This is called “co-viewing.” When parents co-view with their child, they often elaborate on the content of the show, or direct their child’s attention to a certain aspect of the show. For instance, if Elmo is demonstrating how plants grow, a parent who is co-viewing may remind the child that they have plants in their home too, or point out that Elmo is feeding the plant water so it will grow.

One way co-viewing can help children learn is by directing children’s attention to important learning events on the screen. For example, researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, observed parents and children’s looking patterns toward a television screen and found that one-year-olds will follow their parent’s eye gaze toward the screen. This is important because children’s learning from television depends on their attention to the screen, so parents’ attention to the screen can also help children stay focused.

Another way parents help children learn from television is by using it as a teaching opportunity. One study conducted at the University of California, Riverside, found that 12- to 25-month olds were more attentive while viewing a show and used more vocabulary words from the show when their parents engaged in more teaching interactions compared to children whose parents did not engage in many teaching interactions. Therefore, parents do not only direct their child’s attention to the screen, but can emphasize important learning concepts that are represented in the show.

It is important to note that having the television turned on generally reduces parent-child interactions. Parents talk less with their children and scaffold their children’s play less when the television is turned on compared to when it is not turned on. However, when the TV is turned on, children have the opportunity to learn the most from television when they are viewing with a parent who can direct their attention, answer their questions and elaborate on the storyline of the show.

There are some great educational shows on TV for children to watch, and parents can help their children learn more from the screen and apply that learning to their everyday lives when they co-view with their children. Once you spend some time watching television shows with kids, you’ll be surprised how much you learn, too!

Why Kindergarten-Aged Girls Think They’re Less ‘Brilliant’ Than Boys

We often tell children they can be anything they want when they grow up. Unfortunately, societal pressures often dissuade young girls and women from pursuing certain activities and career paths. For example, there has long been an underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, despite the fact that women earn more bachelor degrees than men.

Research suggests this may in part be because “brilliance,” or gifted-ness, is implicitly thought of as a male quality, and women are therefore reluctant to join or persist in academic disciplines that are conveyed as requiring a high degree of brilliance. Researchers from four universities across the country asked a large number of academics in a variety of field about the degree to which they thought brilliance was important for success in their field. Fields that reported that brilliance was important for success, like philosophy, computer science and physics, were more likely underrepresent women compared to fields that thought brilliance was less important, like biology and sociology.

Most important, new research led by the same team of researchers shows that young girls may be attuned to the stereotype of “male = brilliance” by the time they’re six years old. The researchers read five- to seven-year-olds stories and had them play games that involved adults who were “really, really smart.” When asked whether the adults in the stories were male or female, five-year-old boys and girls were both more likely to say the protagonist was their own gender. For six- and seven-year olds, boys were more likely to say the protagonist was their gender, but the girls in this age group were now also more likely to say the protagonist was male. When children were told about two games, one for “children who are really, really smart” and one for “children who try really, really hard,” girls were less interested in the game for smart children compared to boys.

By the time they’re six years old, girls are beginning to develop ideas about who is brilliant, and those ideas influence their interest in and pursuit of certain activities. Although we know that gender inequalities exist, this research is the first to suggest that the underlying notion of brilliance that dissuades some girls from pursuing certain activities, studies or jobs develops at a very young age.

It’s always important to remind ourselves as educators, parents and researchers that a lot of what children learn is implicit — learned through social experiences rather than from being explicitly taught. Nevertheless, it may be necessary for parents to explicitly talk to their children about what makes someone smart, capable or brilliant — especially because learning such stereotypes can shape children’s decisions, narrowing their interests and potential career options from a young age.