What are our kids are watching?
by Jennifer Kernahan
Hands up all those prepared to admit to using the VCR, (on an occasional basis only, of course), as a trade off for some badly needed peace and quiet? Personally? Guilty as charged, your honour! But rest easy, research released in July this year has found that the occasional video watched by your preschooler is not all bad. On the contrary, it can have positive effects for children’s imaginative play.
Dr Helen Skouteris, Chief Researcher at the School of Psychological Science, LaTrobe University, has conducted what is believed to be the first study, world-wide, on the separate television and video viewing habits of children aged between 3 and 6 years.
She says she was prepared to find there were negative effects of television viewing, namely violence, but only one tenth of the sample of mothers reported that their children’s favourite shows were hard hitting action cartoons.
The fact that fewer children of this age group watch violent cartoons may indicate that there is greater awareness amongst parents about the long term implications of viewing programs with high levels of violence. Dr Skouteris was surprised and encouraged to find that there are many positive benefits for children from watching educational TV programs and feature-length films.
Not surprisingly, favourite TV shows for this age group are Play School, Hi-5, Blues Clues and Bob the Builder. That contrasts with American children of the same age, who love Sesame Street. It appears that Aussie kids, of this age, are tuned into their own cultural content and discriminate in favour of it (even though their mothers approve of Sesame Street because of its educational content).
And what is it that little kids love about their favourites?
Play School and Hi-Five get the nod for their music and songs, Blues Clues for its problem and puzzle solving and Bob the Builder because of its characters and activities – after all, banging with a hammer is one of life’s pleasures.
When it come to videos, the top 5 came in at Shrek, Toy Story, The Wiggles, Hi-5 and Toy Story 2 with an honourable mention of Snow White And the Seven Dwarfs by little girls.
While parents are interested in educational content, children often select a feature film video because it’s a story. In other words, it’s a viewing experience that allows them to engage in the story and become involved with the characters, both good and bad.
Feature films are also usually of greater length and viewed at a time of choice by both parent and child. One of the things parents like about films, especially animated ones, is that they can be nearby doing other things, without having to sit through it for the 10th time! As one mum observed, ‘I know the film and know that the content is safe and suitable for my children’.
And while the fifth, or fiftieth, rendition of Bob’s theme song may send a frazzled parent searching for a sound-proof room, at least the research has shown that viewing the same video over and over (and over) again actually works in favour of kids.
Repeated viewing leads to successful problem solving; it allows the young viewer to make sense of the whole, enhances their enjoyment of the songs and allows anticipation of their favourite bits of the movie. And if parents are concerned that their child is a budding couch potato, they can relax. The research has also shown that at video’s end, children are likely to get up and sing and dance, dress up as a character and play out parts of the story with their siblings, friends or toys, or be inspired to draw or paint.
The reality is that TV, videos and DVDs are a part of life and here to stay – it’s surely better to teach our children to be discriminating viewers than stick our collective heads in the sand and hope it will all go away!
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, October 2002.