THE BLOG
07/30/2015 05:10 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why TV Is Okay for Kids

In my only child post I discussed my view that an only child should have less stringent screen time limits than other kids, because they need to know what everyone else is talking about at school, and TV is part of a child's culture.  Someone thought that this was wrong, because TV reduces kids' capacity for empathy, and kids are on TV and videogames hours a day, and just because other kids are doing something bad doesn't mean you should let your own kid do something bad too.

However, and perhaps controversially, I really don't think TV is that bad (neither does my guest poster here, Dr. Brandi Stupica, a developmental psychologist), and in fact (sit down for this one) it can actually be good.  Hear me out.

I understand that everyone, including me at times, particularly with my firstborn, is all crazy about screen time nowadays.    Below we see my oldest child in one of the daily 20 minutes of TV I would allot to her at that age.

i always look like this, I'm an HSC

But here is the thing: once your kids are two years old and up, there are just actually awesome shows out there that really help them.  This study showed that preschoolers who watch shows that teach empathy actually grew more empathic compared to controls!  The commenters who said that TV reduces empathy was probably talking about children watching violent TV shows, which I do not condone.  But Daniel Tiger?  As I have said, the mother on that show is a far better parent than me.  My kids are always singing "You have to try new things cause they might be goo-ood" from that show, and then eating mussels, and olives, and sushi.  So, Daniel Tiger is awesome.  Also, my daughter just learned about segregation from a show about kindergarten.  And Sesame Street teaches reading, and Dora is great too.

I am not saying that you should allow your child unfettered access to TV shows.  But there are really useful and educational shows out there, that other kids are going to reference at school, that can teach your kid a lot of life lessons, and can serve as conversation starters for talks about deep subjects (bullying, sibling jealousy, being kind to others, just to name a few).  Unless you have a dual degree in developmental psychology and early childhood education and unlimited time and patience, you're not going to sit there and come up with a daily curriculum for teaching your kid this stuff.  Why not put on Daniel Tiger or Sophia the First and see what topics they bring up, and discuss them with your kids?  Why not make use of the resources that are available to us?

And of course, as I have said many times, TV makes your life as a parent easier.  I prefer to put my kids in front of the TV than lose my mind, my patience, or my temper with them.  I believe TV makes me a better parent.  My kids actually only watch on average a half hour of TV a day (and then another half hour on iPads and Kindles, especially the Kindle Paperwhitewhich is just like a book so there's zero guilt once your kid can read), but without it, I would feel really frantic.  It's like a safety net in case I really need them to be quiet or else I will go insane in a way that they will later divulge to their therapists.  And believe me, I know all about what people tell their therapists, and it isn't about a parent letting them watch too much TV. It's about a parent with anger issues, or other emotional issues, any of which are exacerbated greatly by feeling like you don't have one second of downtime during a day with small kids.

Also, make sure that your kid knows TV characters that all the other kids at school talk about. This is like their cocktail party conversation.  From what I've seen clinically and anecdotally, nothing makes a kid become more obsessed with fitting in than feeling like he is being prevented from a normal level of fitting in with his peers.  People really liked this point when I made it in my 7 Reasons Your Wife is So Stressed article. If you want to raise kids who become confident independent thinkers later in life, give them the gift of being able to fit in as a child, when it's developmentally and evolutionarily normal for conformity to be their greatest desire.  Then, they will have the baseline level of confidence to start thinking outside the box.  I believe that before you can think outside the box, you have to be familiar with the box.  Just like you don't start composing violin music before you know how to play music that other violinists have composed.

And you know what, if your toddler, below the age of two, will focus on TV, put on Daniel Tiger and be grateful for the break.  No more than an hour, but that hour is life saving.  And then at 2, you can go up to 2 hours if you need to.  Just remember, monitor what they watch, interact with them about it semi-regularly or if something interesting comes up that is a good conversation topic, and let them know what everyone else at school is talking about.  Pick shows that teach nice lessons, about empathy and so forth.

Lastly, if all the other kids are watching a show that doesn't teach empathy, or anything positive at all, you can still use that show as a jumping off point to discuss what you want to discuss.  If someone on a show is acting mean, later you can discuss the meanness and wonder aloud what the characters were all thinking and feeling.  Overall my point is, censorship rarely teaches better lessons than moderated exposure in combination with discussion.  I would rather my kid watch a TV show where someone gets bullied, and we discuss it and brainstorm what to do in that situation, than have my kid's first exposure to bullying be when someone is bullied in front of her and she doesn't have any frame of reference for that situation.

So go give yourself the gift of letting your kid watch some TV.  You're welcome.

Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who, Ironically, Doesn't Watch Much TV, But I Used To As a Kid, and Let Me Tell You, TV Watching Taught Me a Lot About People and Interactions, To The Point That I Wanted To Become a Psychologist!

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Pre-order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family.