Children's Television Programming is Not Necessarily Child-Friendly

You like to think of yourself as a good, conscientious parent. You try to protect your child from the negative influences of the media. You don't allow your kids to play violent video games (or play these games in front of them) and you only allow them to watch television shows designed for children. You may even only watch adult television and movies after they go to bed. But if you think the television shows and movies your child is watching are safe choices because they're designed for children, you may want to think again.

Have you noticed that many children's programs today, even cartoons, seem more racy or advanced than programs of the past? I sure have. I've been borderline shocked at some of the things I've seen on shows supposedly meant for kids. Sometimes it almost seems as if they are written to keep parents interested instead of just children!

It's tempting to try to rationalize this as "just how things are now" or "obviously okay because they're kids shows." But think about who's writing these shows. Most of the time it's someone who is trying to sell programming, not necessarily someone who understands children's developmental needs.

Research shows that developmentally inappropriate shows are related to a variety of difficulties in children from increased aggression and violent behaviors to difficulty sleeping.  You may be shocked to learn that children are exposed to an average of 20-25 acts of violence per hour  on Saturday morning children's shows. Exposure to media violence (even in cartoons) has been repeatedly linked to increased aggression.

Growing up, I remember thinking it was weird when my brother, who's about three years younger than me, got nightmares from watching Scooby Doo. It turns out he wasn't so strange after all :) Cartoons such as Buggs Bunny, Scooby Doo, and Sponge Bob Square Pants have been linked to problems sleeping in preschoolers, but are much more acceptable for 8 or 9 year-olds. Sleeping problems have been associated with behavior problems, weight problems, and poor school performance.

So what can you do?

  • Be aware of the content of the shows your child is watching and think about whether what is on the show really seems appropriate for their age. If you're unsure, you might want to skip that show.
  • For children under five, choose shows that are geared toward very young children (think Sesame Street and Dora the Explorer). Even shows geared toward a slightly older age can cause problems.
  • If you are concerned with your child's behavior or sleep patterns, consider switching them to younger programming.
  • Sit with your child while they watch shows and discuss what you are seeing to help them understand and process it. If you see something you don't like, explain why it's problematic (e.g., "He was mad and he  hit her, but hitting is not a good way to solve problems. The right way to handle it is to use your words. What could he have said?")
  • Realize that what is appropriate for your child might seem really boring to you!

For more information, check out the following links:

Children and media violence:

Children's programming and sleep problems: