Watching TV with Your Kids Can Help Cognitive Development, Study Claims

Make screen time quality time with your kids.

By: Amanda Mushro

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Happy family reclining on green sofa and watching TV

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Happy family reclining on green sofa and watching TV

Photo by: 10'000 Hours

10'000 Hours

The topic of screen time and kids can be a real hot-button issue for a lot of parents. While in some homes there is absolutely zero screen time and in others, it’s whatever works for each kid, a new study suggests that snuggling up with your kids and watching some quality kids’ shows can be good for their brain development.

According to a study from the U.K.’s University of Portsmouth and University Paris Nanterre in France, educational TV shows can really benefit your children — especially if parents or caregivers are watching with them. While past studies have found that too much screen time can have detrimental effects on children’s development of play, language, and executive functioning, parents can change up traditional screen time.

Instead of just turning on a show or pulling up Youtube Kids on a tablet (although no judgment here because we’ve all done it!), try sitting down with your kids and talking about the shows with them. From discussing colors and characters to asking questions and narrating the show, you are turning TV time into learning time.

"We're used to hearing that screen exposure is bad for a child and can do serious damage to their development if it's not limited to say less than an hour a day. While it can be harmful, our study suggests the focus should be on the quality or context of what a child is watching, not the quantity," says Dr. Eszter Somogyi from the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth.

However, Dr. Somogyi says all kids' TV is not created equal. "Weak narrative, fast pace editing, and complex stimuli can make it difficult for a child to extract or generalize information. But when screen content is appropriate for a child's age, it's likely to have a positive effect, particularly when it's designed to encourage interaction."

The researchers of the study also want parents to remember that screen time should not replace playtime (inside and outside) or time socializing with peers. However, it can be a valuable learning tool and a fun activity that parents and kids can enjoy together.

"These differences in the viewing context play an important role in determining the strength and nature of TV's impact on children's cognitive development," says Dr. Somogyi. "Watching television with your child and elaborating and commenting on what is viewed can help enhance their understanding of the content, reinforcing their learning during educational programs. Co-viewing can also contribute to the development of their conversation skills and provides children with a role model for appropriate television viewing behavior."

Need a new show to watch with your littles? Here are a few that Common Sense Media recommends:

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