Evidence continues to grow showing that some TV content can help kids develop social and emotional skills.
In a study published this month in Communication Research, researchers at UC-Davis and Wake Forest University had 101 parent-child pairs (children were ages 4.5-6.5) come to a lab and watch one of two episodes of Arthur. One episode contained a story with a “moral,” or a lesson that taught kids to take another person’s perspective. The other episode did not contain a moral lesson, but instead focused on music appreciation. Results showed that children who watched the episode with the moral lesson exhibited higher levels of perspective taking.
But that’s not where the study ended. Next, researchers told each child two stories about a character’s use of justified violence and two stories of the use of unjustified violence, and asked each child to explain their reasoning about the rightness or wrongness of the character’s actions. Children’s responses ranged from saying people shouldn’t act that like because they could get into trouble (the low end of moral reasoning) to considering the humanness of each person (the high end of moral reasoning). Kids who watched the episode of Arthur with the moral lesson exhibited higher moral reasoning.
And to put the study all together, statistical analyses found that watching the Arthur episode with the moral lesson led to greater perspective taking, which in turn led to greater moral reasoning. And what’s more, this learning happened whether or not the child watched with a parent or if their parent talked with them about the show.
In other words, prosocial television can help build kids’ moral development. And of course, it’s not just any TV show that will do the trick. Combined with past research, it’s clear that educational programming such as that found on PBS seems to hold the most promise for positive effects on child viewers. I don’t think this means that parents should rely solely on television to teach kids about right and wrong. I do think it means, however, that some TV shows can help parents in these all-important efforts.
And as a parent myself, I’ll use all the help I can get.