Telly Time: Considering the Importance of TV Shows on Childhood Development

By Shradha Shendge

Did you ever have that one comfort show that played a huge role in your childhood? Throughout elementary school, I was a certified PBS Kids and Disney Channel fan. Characters like Elmo, Arthur, and Curious George shaped my childhood more than I realized, and it is interesting to think about this in retrospect. While the shows I watched were funny, comforting, and entertaining, they also helped me learn more about myself and the world around me.

Television programs like Dora the Explorer, Electric Company, and Sesame Street, for instance, are chock-full of educational material from literacy skills to math and science. How is it that these sorts of educational programs were able to capture the attention of such a wide audience of children? It’s because these shows were well-rounded in a way that their content reached past solely educational information—they retained a unique combination of storytelling and life-lessons along with academics. Let me talk through some examples to show you what I mean.

Taken from PBS

In every episode of Super Why! and Sesame Street, I remember the characters directly interacting with the audience and asking questions, even pausing for kids to chime in with what they think the answer was. This was often followed by an affirming response from the characters. This sort of interaction between those on-screen characters and the children watching transformed a passive pastime into an activity that kept them engaged and curious.

Additionally, one of the most important things these shows did was introduce the idea of social-emotional learning (SEL) in a way that mirrors children’s real-life interactions with their peers, family, and others. For instance, Arthur sheds light on what it’s like to have siblings, relationships with parents, and those who have different home dynamics than oneself. By watching how characters navigate emotions like frustration, nervousness, and anger, kids are able to imbibe and apply these skills because of how well their brains absorb information.

Every day, children are learning new things about the world around them, further building connections in their brains. Educational and life skills-centered TV programs help facilitate that process and can be viewed as a tool to expand their horizons if properly used. Children can experience cultures different from their own, information about places they might not have easy access to, and so much more. It is amazing how shows like this introduce the importance of education and social-emotional learning at an early age, and potentially better equip kids going into middle and high school with crucial life skills.

Kids are also better able to connect with peers by talking about their favorite shows. By taking what they liked and learned about, say, a new episode of Curious George, children can further solidify new connections by verbalizing them. Talking about shows and their own response to them increases metacognitive skills that are key to bettering our social and emotional interactions.

Lastly, I want to think about how the mode of delivery has changed for shows. Growing up, I always knew what day and time of the week my favorite shows would be on. Nowadays, many children’s media have been fully aired and are on streaming platforms like Netflix and Disney+ to watch whenever one wants—people I know rarely even have cable. It would be interesting to explore how and whether this mode of TV-watching has changed the way children absorb information from the shows, and if newer shows retain aspects of the ones aired when I was growing up.

Social-emotional learning skills learned at a young age are foundational, but it is just as important to reinforce them as young adults in high school and beyond. There are many examples of these types of skills in media such as shows, movies, books, and podcasts that you can look into today! If you are seeking out this content, I invite you all to check out Vivensity’s podcast, Spark Moment™. There, interns talk about a variety of SEL & wellness topics to encourage leading more balanced lifestyles.

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