The lure of the television is undeniable when it comes to kids. But how do you choose which shows are appropriate for the younger set? Here are 5 fool-proof tips to help.
About the time “Mommy” got shortened to “Mom,” I noticed a few other things that were changing for my oldest child around second grade. One of them was that the she began to consider shows that we used to love watching together, like Little Bear and Franklin, as babyish. While she didn’t exactly say that, based on what her friends are watching and the fact that “Want to go lie in bed and watch Little Bear?” no longer possesses its luring power, I’m figuring that she’s grown out of the innocence of our favorite fuzzy bear story time. The shows she wants to watch now feature the tween Disney stars plastered all over Tiger Beat magazine, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
“Absolutely not,” my husband says, “she’s 7 years old for God’s sake.” This is no surprise as he also refers to her as “widdle” and will likely still be bringing home baby dolls as presents from business trips when she’s 20 (OK, so will I). Making hard and fast rules to keep her little for us, when she’s naturally growing and changing and liking new things, isn’t exactly fair though. So before we swore off all shows up for a Teen Choice Award, I figured we at least needed to watch some of them because there’s a fine line between what’s fitting for a maturing kid and what’s just plain inappropriate.
Here are guidelines we created to help us decide what’s appropriate for our family:
1. Monitor Television Time. Choosing good shows isn’t a big issue if you’re not watching a lot of television, so really the best solution to finding appropriate television is saying, “Go play.” Still, we all know that a little bit of television doesn’t hurt and can be fun, quiet entertainment — in moderation.
2. Don’t Trust Network Ratings. A kid-approved stamp given by a television network is a generic guide that doesn’t take into account your parenting style and the things your family feels are important. And beware of cartoons! There are plenty of adult-animated shows on television now, many with highly inappropriate topics.
3. Watch TV with Them. The bottom line is, I want to know what my kids are watching, and if the TV is on in our home, I want to first approve the show ahead of time, and second to watch it with my kids so that I’m aware of anything they might be seeing that needs intervention.
4. Talk About the Show with Your Child. As kids get older, we realize that we can’t shelter them from every single person/show/behavior that doesn’t fit exactly with our values. They’re going to hear a swear word from time to time — and might walk into the room while the characters in the romantic comedy we’re watching are making out. We talk about what we see, though, using storylines to teach lessons when possible.
5. If It Doesn’t Feel Good, Turn It Off. See something on a show your child is watching that gives you a funny feeling? That feeling is your gut instinct and it will always serve you well. Whether it’s boyfriend/girlfriend issues that feel too mature, mean girl characters that bring bad energy into your living room, or a bratty little kid who talks back to his mom (followed by canned laughter, of course), if it doesn’t sit well with you, turn it off. “I don’t like the way they treat each other” is a good enough reason in our home to turn a show off. I’d rather err on the innocent side of television that’s too babyish for my kids than on mature teen shows that they’re not ready to watch.
And you know what’s funny? When you sit down to check out how Good Luck Charlie measures up to your TV standards — and you realize your kids ran off to play and you’re still watching it. What can I say? Good Luck Charlie is entertaining, and the mom on that show is all kinds of funny. Over time, we’ve also watched a few episodes of Jessie and Dog with a Blog, enough to realize that these shows all have a stylish hair-swinging, quick-witted teen in common. And the verdict? While we decided that we weren’t comfortable with our kids watching some shows, we did find a couple that are harmless and funny and actually make for a great family show that we can all watch together. Our standards for what our kids watch might be completely different from our friends’ standards — and that’s OK because we’re all doing our bests.
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Photo credit: Kelle Hampton