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TV, Children and the Responsibility of Education

Jul 01, 2010 | By Derek Webster

Should kids be allowed to watch television? As one of the most potent commodities within modern popular culture, the influence of TV on children cannot be avoided. Rather it should be, responsibly, embraced.

Small boy watching TVAs a parent, it can be difficult to come to terms with the exact role television should take in a child’s daily schedule. There is a wide enough spectrum of philosophies to allow a range in the acceptable function of television in this modern age of child rearing. These ideas can land so far a field as to include everything from the totalitarian extreme of complete television abstinence, to the equally bold but opposing assumption that any amount, or quality, of television can have but nominal impact on a youthful audience.

What cannot be argued is how ubiquitous television has become to modern American culture. Even if a parent prefers to keep his or her child isolated from the direct influence of TV, it remains next to impossible to remove that child from televisions wider cultural influences.

With that in mind, it should prove valuable to survey a few of the important considerations to be kept in mind when choosing whether or not to utilize children’s television programming as part of a modern childhood education:

Why TV is Not Itself Evil

Television can be, and often is, a mindless procrastination. By the nature of its format – visual, fast cutting, and kinetically charged – it is a medium capable of spoon feeding highly digestible, and often consumer driven content to the widest audience possible. This is what the television industry has been built to accomplish. If there is an evil in this model, it is not to be blamed on the television format itself, but rather the industry grown around and inseparable from that technology.

Kids watching TVBut…
Television can be educational. From oral recitation, to book printing, to formulaic study materials, even to multi-media interactivity, children’s developmental needs have grown and expanded right along with each technological burst of the modern world. As mentioned previously, television programming enjoys an influential, and uncontestable hold on society.

But the same cultural needs that inspired the growth of these industries (speed and efficiency of communication, and interactivity of content as two strong examples) can challenge today’s parents to more fluently address their own children’s similarly broadened educational needs.

Sesame Street can be viewed as an interesting case study. No children’s television program has lasted longer or had more cultural or educational impact on American society. Though the program has been occasionally (and arguably) disparaged as degrading the attention span of its audience, it is more interesting to view the astounding success of this program as a testament to its use of consistently savvy television market appeal. Instead of selling products, opinions or politics to an adult audience, Sesame Street has long since mastered the similar mechanism of “selling” letters, numbers and words to its viewing children.

Television, as a form of entertainment and conduit for information, is currently unmatched in its cultural immediacy (though the internet is surely another powerful and growing instrument). That such a tool can, if used responsibly, become an important element in accentuating the education of today’s children should come as no surprise. Neither should the realization that this responsible use will necessarily put as much of of a burden on the parents as on the programming.

Why the Parents Must Watch Too

Parents watching TV with their childrenAs navigator, filter, interpreter and reinforcer, a care-giver that wishes to use television as an educational tool must be willing to partake in the experience. The key to extracting the most, and regretting the least, from the time a child sits in front of the television set is simple parental involvement. Some forms this can take include:

  • Contexualizing a program with preceding, and similarly themed, playtime. Organized play can be used to introduce the educational elements soon to be seen.
  • Extending the theme with interactive activities that translate the material further. After the program, find creative games and projects that take ideas from the screen and breath them into real life exploration.
  • Paying attention to the aspects of the program a child finds most enjoyable. Infusing continued lessons with the same playful and entertaining elements that previously inspired a child’s educational curiosity can only deepen their overall learning experience.

By taking part in a child’s television viewing, and helping to enrich and contextualize these lessons, a parent can positively influence what a child expects from their entertainment as well as their education. Just as with reading to children, the influence of TV viewing has as much to do with the involvement of the parent as the content of the material.

Far from an evil to be avoided, when responsibly presented, and coupled with a full and interactive curriculum, children’s television programming can prove a powerful educational tool. It can also prove itself another quality opportunity for parents to bond with, and better understand, their children.

About the author:
Derek Webster graduated from Yale University, where he split his time between studying esoteric film narrative and getting his face pounded as Captain of the Yale Rugby Football team. A decade spent in the Hollywood film industry was highlighted by his two year run as columnist for Screentalk Magazine, and the establishment of a successful story consultation service, Creation-Point.
Returned to Connecticut, Derek continues as a freelance writer and story editor. When he’s not watching his precocious little girls grow up way too fast, he is known to procrastinate away many an hour scouring the internet for worthy material.
Read more of Derek's writing on his blog,

Tags : TV, television, education, children, kids, censorship, monitoring

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