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Monday, March 25, 2013

Television - A Key Tool in Parents' Educational Toolbox

Guest Post By Sharon Rechter

The debate over children and television viewing has been going strong for many years, with extreme positions strongly represented on both sides. Some parents absolutely forbid their children from watching any television, while others leave it on all day long.  As a mom of two young girls, I understand the challenges surrounding this issue. It’s not just what kids should be watching, but when and at what age they should start.

I’m a firm believer of “most things in moderation” and television is no exception. I choose to see the television as one of many tools in my educational toolbox. When used appropriately, television can complement a child’s development. Maximizing these benefits means parents need to do some research before grabbing the remote. We should know what our kids are watching at all times, what’s available for particular age-groups, and which shows have been designed by developmental experts.  A small bit of research now will reap great rewards later.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that 95% of American babies watch television. Statistics like this really change the debate for me. It’s no longer an issue of if children should watch TV but rather what they are watching. We already know our kids are indeed tuning in, so why not embrace this information and make screen time as beneficial as possible?

Of course, content is our first concern. If our kids aren’t watching the “right” programming, nothing else about the experience matters. How do we define what are the right shows? Aside from content that’s age-appropriate and obviously non-violent, it’s also important that our kids make a connection with what they are viewing.  It’s irrelevant how educational a show is if our kids have no interest in watching it!

Generating interest in educational programming is easier if we’re watching these shows with our children. Asking questions during and after the program helps the information soak-in and generates a bond between our kids and us. If your children have a favorite character, ask if they can recall their names, the songs they sang or details about the adventures they had. Reinforce these concepts throughout the day, whether it’s on a walk outside or during some unstructured playtime in the afternoon. Kids love having their memory skills tested and are proud when they remember something they’ve learned.

For very young children, watching programming with their parents not only creates a bond but also increases their ability to communicate. One of the most frustrating things for parents and young kids alike is the struggle to simply understand each other. BabyFirst, the television company I co-founded, produces a sign language series called, I Can Sign. Parents and small children are taught how to use sign language to communicate basic needs. A few years ago, my own daughters learned sign language by watching this series and life became so much easier! It’s become our “secret language” even though they’ve outgrown the need for the signs.

Kids tend to get stuck on a favorite television show and resist our urges to change the channel. Introduce children to several programs at once and automatically rotate these on a regular basis. This will help your children get accustomed to change before it becomes necessary. Continually refreshing this content exposes your child to new knowledge and different experiences. Instead of knowing what’s coming up next and zoning out, they’ll be excited to see what new concept they’re about to learn.

We know that watching TV with our kids is important, but how much is too much? As I said earlier, moderation is essential and makes this dilemma easy to solve. Balance screen time equally with all the other pieces in your educational toolbox. Be sure your child spends time doing other things, including being outside, reading and involved in unstructured play.  Make the transition from the TV time to something else easier by showing excitement for “what’s next!”

The reality is that in most living situations our children are exposed to television on a daily basis. Of course, this doesn’t solve the debate, but it should help to clarify our priorities. For most parents, focusing on what our kids are watching, rather than if they should watch at all opens the door to a whole new way of learning.

About Sharon Rechter
Co-Founder, BabyFirst

Sharon Rechter, along with business partner, Guy Oranim, conceptualized and co-founded BabyFirst (www.babyfirsttv.com), which is a global TV channel for tots. In her role as executive vice president, she leads the business development and marketing activities for the company – with a clear passion to bring quality, new educational programming to families of babies and toddlers.

Rechter has a broad background in television programming and recently served as the vice president and head of operations for The Israeli Network (the Israeli television channel in the U.S.). She was responsible for the general management of the network, and focused on areas including business development, advertising and subscriptions. Before entering the television broadcast industry, Rechter headed the strategic planning department at GNS Advertising in Israel where she was responsible for developing strategic plans for a variety of lifestyle brands.

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