Parents, take heart. Not all TV is bad. New research finds that watching America’s favorite tiger can be good for your developing child.
You remember Mr. Rogers, don’t you? The red sweater. The shoes. The songs. Your kids may not know who he is, but they likely know who Daniel Tiger is. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is the animated descendant of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and features children of several characters from the original Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
In order to be successful once they enter elementary school, it is essential that kids develop certain social and emotional skills during their preschool years. A lot of things can help kids develop these skills. Researchers at Texas Tech University wanted to see if watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood could also help.
In the study, which will be published in an upcoming issue of Journal of Children and Media, 127 preschoolers watched 10 episodes of either Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or a nature show over a two-week period. Children who watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood exhibited higher levels of empathy, self-efficacy (basically, confidence in oneself in social situations), and the ability to recognize emotions than those who watched the nature show. There is a kicker, though. In order for kids to benefit from watching the show, their regular TV-watching experiences had to be accompanied by frequent parent-child conversations about media content.
In other words, it is the combination of watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and parents’ involvement while watching that seems to make the difference. This appears to especially be true for younger children (ages 4 and younger) and low-income children. When we take frequent parent-child conversations about media out of the equation, kids don’t seem to benefit as much from watching the show.
What does this research mean? This means that certain educational TV programming is becoming sophisticated enough that they have the ability to maintain a child’s attention, they are developmentally appropriate, they have characters with whom children can identify, and they use teaching techniques that help kids learn.
It also means that parents need to be intimately involved in helping reinforce the lessons taught in educational TV programming. It is not enough to plop your kiddo in front of the TV and expect them to become academic and social geniuses. The lessons in the show need to be reinforced by regular parent involvement.
In addition to teaching social skills, the show also teaches certain skills that preschoolers often find difficult, such as potty-training, trying new foods, and brushing teeth. It does so through songs that reinforce the lessons. In other words, the legacy of Mr. Rogers lives on in this cartoon remake of one of the classic shows of our generation.