Making Smart TV Choices

April 6, 2017
Making Smart TV Choices

Making the right TV choices can be tricky for parents of young children.

Here are our tips for finding high quality options and making the right choices for your family.


Note: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of 2 should not watch any television, and that children over the age of 2 be limited to 1-2 hours of high-quality television per day

How do you identify high-quality TV?

  • Age appropriate content.  If you’re not prepared to talk to your child about the subject (romance, weapons, monsters) than it is probably a good idea to avoid shows that highlight these topics.  Expect questions about anything your children are watching and consider what you would feel comfortable addressing when you select content.
  • Interactive components. Shows that pause to ask your child a question “Where is the ___?” or “What is your favorite ___?” promote good TV watching skills.  They interrupt your child’s viewing to engage them and get them active in their experience.
  • Integrated lessons.  Children don’t gain real knowledge through memorization.  By integrating lessons into a story, for example putting the ABCs as signals along the treasure hunt, children learn new knowledge in context.


What is co-viewing?

  • Sitting with your child.  We all use TV when we need a break from parenting, but the ideal way to foster your child’s development while watching TV is to do it side-by-side.  That way, you know what they are experiencing and can participate in the experience of TV viewing with young children.
  • Asking follow-up questions.  Just like interactive shows, interrupting your children’s viewing to talk about what they are seeing is a great way to participate.  Ask them about what characters are thinking and feeling, how they feel about what they are seeing, or about what they believe might happen next.
  • Connecting what they see to the real world.  Whenever possible, it is great to connect what children see on a screen with what they experience in real life.  For example, if they are watching a show where the main character gets a new sibling, you can talk about their own experience as a big or little sister/brother or the experience of another new baby they know.  Try and connect what the character on screen is talking about with someone in their own life to expand their learning and help them make sense of what they see.


What’s the “right” amount of time?

  • Identify what your needs are.  Again, we know TV is a break for lots of caregivers.  Try and identify what period of time you need it most (for example, 20 minutes to take a shower or 30 minutes to cook dinner) and use TV then.  Using it when it’s not necessary makes it harder to stick to time limits. Of course, for extremely stressful situations and travel, there are no limits!
  • Gauge their reaction.  It is common for young children to have tantrums and meltdowns after watching TV for too long.  Get a sense of how your child handles exposure and make the choices that make sense for him or her.  Avoid television too close to bedtime as some studies have shown it can have a stimulating effect on children similar to a cup of coffee!  
  • Be creative.  If your child isn’t ready for a full-length movie (which many under 5 are not), try breaking TV or video watching into small segments.  Similarly, if your child is under 2, don’t rush to introduce TV time.  Do what feels right and necessary for your family and try to avoid habits that you’ll later have to rethink.  Even in this digital world, these are parenting decisions that are unique to each family.


For more detailed information on TV choices, click here.  For TV and movie recommendations by age, visit Common Sense Media.