You know you’re on the right track with parenting kids in the digital age when you all like the same children’s show. But many of us adults are bored to futility with kid’s TV shows...
It’s quite a feat for producer’s to create shows that can appeal to both kids and their parents. It can be difficult for the adults in charge to maintain an authentic interest in and delight in their digital world with stamina that endures.
As a result, adults often don’t stay with kids during their child shows or adults may expose their kids to shows that are ‘too mature’ for their children in the quest for togetherness in the digital world, and in the case of this example, around the television.
One of the biggest challenges of parenting is keeping our lives catered enough toward a child-centered world.
When a child is pushed too far beyond their capability, they are less likely to bring the necessary abilities into the situation to experience success.
And when it comes to the digital age, it’s even harder for us (and them) to have a sense of what’s the right ‘zone’ for their chance at successful experiences.
One of the ways to help make the child’s television world more ‘stimulating’ to adult brains is by paying attention in different ways.
Here are 3 tips for watching TV with your children:
(1) Protect your child from seeing shows that you haven’t first scouted as appropriate for all viewers. (this might seem obvious, but please read on...)
Something that parents might consider slightly fearful (i.e. a cartoon character is startled by a scary sound) or even mildly sassy (i.e. a cartoon character uses the word ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’) is often magnified for the impressionable child’s brain.
Kids are keenly observant in the present moment. In just a few minutes, children may get exposed to something inappropriate, even harmful developmentally that then gets played out at recess with peers and in their interactions with parents.
For example, your child may engage in more bedtime delay tactics that appear to be defiance. However, it’s actually fear-based separation anxiety related to observing that frightened character (that had appeared harmless).
Or your child may experience more ‘corrections’ from teachers to use ‘kind words’ because he’s ‘practicing’ being more sassy like that cartoon character.
Please consider becoming familiar with Common Sense Media for specific show recommendations for each age. Then, when you’re watching the show with them, pay attention to the themes mentioned in Common Sense Media to keep track if they are in fact appropriate for YOUR child.
(2) Purposefully look for 2 – 3 scenes per show that you find to be meaningful and purposefully comment out loud about it, could be positive or negative, as a way to 'mark' your brains for a ‘teachable moment’ later.
Then, later, purposefully keep it in mind so when you see your child DO something that may be related to what you watched, you can bring it up.
Examples to look out for could be scenes involving fighting, kindness, bravery, discovery, cooperative teamwork. So as a 'bored' adult, instead of needing to be engaged in the show, try being engaged in the potential 'teachable moments' - it's sure a lot more stimulating than some of the repetitive and 'dumbed-down' content in many kid's shows.
For instance, if you're child's seeminlgy 'delaying' bedtime might be more clingy or even ask for the light to stay on, you might say "remember when I mentioned how I thought that robot was mean, sometimes brains get extra worried at night time about stuff. Nothing's gonna be mean in our house... we make sure of that."
Another example could be playful. During a show you might say “oh I love how Tinkerbell is flying… she’s having so much fun!” and next time you’re pushing your child on the swing, you might say “you’re flying in the air like Tinkerbell with the wind in your hair!”
You might point out in another show “it’s hard for him to do the right thing, he’s really struggling.” Then later, when you’ve asked your child to put his toys away (and you’re getting the common ‘deaf ears’), you might collect your child’s attention and say “you’re having a hard time doing the right thing like [character's name], you’re really struggling too.”
These types of comments from parents helps bridge the imagination with the sensory, real world version. This helps link the lessons in the show with the lessons in the real world.
(3) Pay attention to the parts of the show that your child comments on or that elicits a big expression from your child as a way to keep track of what they’re affected by, what moves them.
Why might it be that your older son roars with excitement at the villian’s victory but your younger son doesn’t? Why might it be that your youngest daughter stands up and dances at the music but your oldest daughter doesn’t?
Consider paying attention to the subtle indicators of your child’s personality, interests and sensitivities while you’re watching TV together. Without judgment of whether something is right or wrong, good or bad, become curious about what is compelling to your children.
Then later, when you’re making ‘small talk’ in the car or trying to redirect their attention, you may find that you can customize your efforts more to their individual sensibilities.
For instance, you might turn your directive into a song for the child who responds positively to music in shows.
On the other hand, you might engage in your older son’s part of the small talk better by adding imaginal intensity.
My 4 year-old son, for instance, gets a hoot out of characters in the show stumbling... maybe teetering on the verge of falling down. So sometimes when I'm getting resistance when I'm brushing his teeth, I'll pretend that I'm about to lose my balance... or if he doesn't keep his mouth still, I'll fall down. Makes it fun for him (and as a result, less stressful for me).
The child’s world is such an invaluable place for them to live. When they experience enough successes in their child-oriented life, they will be more prepared to have successes when they become an adult.
While watching children’s TV shows aren’t necessarily entertaining for adults, these 3 tips may help parents and kids get what matters when watching TV together.
Dr. Julie Hartman is a licensed clinical psychologist and Founder of the Mindful Resource Center (MRC): www.mindfulresourcecenter.com. She is a professional writer and speaker as well as leading and supporting programs that enhance brains and communities on topics such as Parenting Today, Communicating with Peace and Presence, Quieting the Stressed-out Mind and Raising Digitally-wise Kids.
(c) Jan 2014 Julie Hartman, PhD. All rights reserved.