Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Screen Time for Toddlers - The Bad & The Ugly

This week's posts focus all about young children and screen time.  You can find my other posts about the general guidelines of children's screen time, the amount of screen time our toddler has, and my take as a speech therapist on the good options in young children's programming at the links shown.  As for today, well, let's get into the bad and the ugly - those shows that I'm just really not that into for my toddler.

Before we talk about the bad & ugly though - I'll start out by going through just a few shows that aren't particularly offensive to me as a parent and speech pathologist, but that aren't good enough to make my list of the top five shows I'll let my son watch without me.  Some of these shows are extremely cute, enjoyable enough that I don't mind watching them, and have the typically toddler theme units to help your toddler learn specific concepts and vocabulary, but I just find there to be better options if I'm not right there.  I will definitely watch some of these shows with Little Man, but I make sure that I'm there and interacting with him the entire time, pointing out what is happening, working on new vocabulary words, or identifying new concepts.  Those shows on my "Meh" list are as follows:

- Bubble Guppies 
- Curious George
- Sesame Street 
- Jake & The Neverland Pirates
- Little Einsteins
- Handy Manny
- Doc McStuffins
- Phineas and Ferb {This one gets equally as many great reviews as it gets bad ones from what I've heard, but I don't love it for the fact that it seems to be teaching the same theme - over, and over, and over again.}

There are a few other shows that hit my middle of the road category that I wanted to go into a bit further.

The first is Yo Gabba Gabba.  I know this is a huge hit for many parents and kids, but for me it falls right into the middle.  I love how expressive the facial expressions are made on the characters - you can visibly and plainly see when they are upset or happy.  I also love the themed units and their use of song to teach concepts.  As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Little Man knows when I softly sing the tune of "Inside voice - quiet" that he needs to decrease his volume or whisper if we're trying to walk past Little Lady's room without waking her.  It's a great, fun method of teaching simple concepts to use song.

But what I don't like is the transitions from segments on the show and the seemingly unrelated content in each episode.  Each episode has random transitions of children riding toys around the screen as well as video game clips that have absolutely nothing to do with the theme of the day.  There are also a bunch of segments such as funny faces and Biz's beat of the day that also don't even remotely related to their main topic.  It may be hard to understand for younger kids why that material is at all relevant to what they're watching, when really - it just isn't.

Another show on my Meh list is Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  I used to really like MMC, but after watching a bit, I realized the amount of possible learning to come from the show compared to the amount of time spent watching the show was not a good ratio.  The concepts taught are also very basic and limited, and suited to very young toddlers.  One other thing that bothers me a bit is the character Pete.  I don't hugely love that he is constantly trying to steal things from the other characters and is just, in general, not a great guy, but whenever Mickey or any of the other characters refer to him, it's "our friend Pete."  I'm not a fan of the fact that it shows kids that their friends can walk all over them and have no ramifications for it.  {For the same reasons, I'm not a huge fan of Dora the Explorer and Swiper.}

The third on the middle of the road shows I wanted to talk about today was Eebee baby.  I've had a few readers ask me specifically about this show.  To be honest, I'd never heard of it until asked to talk about it in this post series.  From the limited amount of episodes I was able to watch on Netflix, it seems like Eebee baby is a show to help children learn through action by completing tasks such as water play, scooping, turning dials, fastening, etc.  Overall, before I go into the specifics - this show is kind of creepy.  Eebee is an odd creature and they don't talk very much during the show - which as a SLP I don't love.  However, the play they're modeling is very age appropriate for older babies and younger toddlers, and the tasks are fun.  I think my main concern is that this is NOT a show to just set your toddler down in front of and walk away.  To learn much of anything from this show, it'd be more appropriate to play the show and then immediately do the same activities shown.  In that thought though, you're probably going to have to demonstrate how to play anyway, so maybe just watching Eebee baby yourself for the ideas and then playing those activities with your child would be the best option.

So let's talk about the Ugly - those shows I'm against showing to my toddler as a SLP.

1. Any show made for adults {The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, etc.}

This should go without saying.  Really, it should.  But sadly it doesn't.  {Sigh.}

For many families with whom I've worked, putting on one cartoon is the same as putting on any other.  But cartoons made for adults are just that - made for adults.  The consuming of alcoholic beverages or using illegal substances, overt sexual themes, violence, poor language, and just in general inappropriate content matter is just the tip of the iceberg with these shows.  While it's great for a laugh after your children are asleep, for the love of all that is holy - please don't play these shows while your child is watching.

2. Teach your child to read {Or any other DVD program that claims to teach your child something out of their developmentally appropriate timeline}

Any program you buy claiming to teach an infant how to read, speak, or do cartwheels is probably a waste of money, bottom line.  There is a reason children develop at a certain rate, and their cognition can only stretch so far out of those parameters.  Additionally, I'm against any program that advocates ignoring the AAP's recommendation for no screen time before the age of two, especially if it requires hours upon hours of screen time per week.  It just isn't a good option for your kids.  If you're concerned with their development or believe your child is not on track, please contact your pediatrician and ask for a referral to be evaluated by your local speech, occupational, or physical therapists!

3. Barney & Friends

Barney is an example of how not to help your child develop socially and emotionally.  In most situations, Barney responds in ways that I don't find pragmatically appropriate, glossing over the children's feelings and concerns, or giggling through hurting himself or being upset.  Also, if you watch an episode of Barney, there is never any real tension between characters or any need of conflict resolution.  It does a poor job of displaying actual possibilities of interaction between the children pictured, showing that everyone always gets along in perfect happiness with each other.

I'd heard recently that the show had been a bit better in these aspects from a friend, so we gave it another shot.  In the one episode I watched with Little Man {the only episode of Barney he's ever seen}, the children were about to construct an airplane out of boxes and "fly" it.  The children assigned themselves characters: the blonde girl as the flight attendant, the brunette, white boy as the pilot, and the hispanic boy as a passenger going to visit his grandmother.  As that point, because of those gender and cultural stereotype and roll fulfillment as well as the poor social/emotional example, we turned off the TV and went to play with some toys.  Sorry, Barney.  You failed your second chance.

4. Caillou

This is another show we'd actually never watched, but in preparing for this post I did a bit more research.  I'd heard from other parents that it was a terrible show, and - after watching - I have to agree.  Caillou comes off as ungrateful and whiny.  He (she?) treats his parents poorly and they tend to be somewhat of pushovers in the show.  After watching several episodes, I hadn't heard the words please, thank you, or I'm sorry once, though they would apply in several situations.  For all the possible lessons a child could learn from this show, I still wouldn't choose it as a good or even middle of the road option.

5. Sponge Bob

As for Sponge Bob, this article from ABC News sums it up quite nicely.  Starting off, Sponge Bob was "made to entertain 6 to 11 year old children, not made to teach preschoolers," per Jane Gould - a senior VP at Nickelodeon.  So, it isn't even made to teach older children, just to occupy their time.  Which, if you've read my previous posts - you know that I'm not a fan of that other than occasionally and with good quality content.  Sponge Bob does not have quality characters, has fast transitions which I find to tax cognitive processing, and shows content that I find to be inappropriate for both preschoolers and older aged children in terms of social interaction, ability to transfer to real life scenarios, and poor connection to loud and distracting music.

Funny story though, the study I cited above used watching Caillou as one of their control groups as a good example of toddler programming...  {double sigh.}

So there you have it.

When we are looking for television programming in the Naptown Organizer household, these are the shows upon which we never land.  Tune in tomorrow for my Tips & Tricks post on how to cut your television bills while at the same time keeping your children healthier at the same time!  Later on in the week I also have posts lined up discussing how to decrease your child's current TV obsession and how to teach your child using the television!

In the meantime, do you agree with the bad & the ugly programs I've listed above?


  1. Mickey Mouse is a common show in our house. I have the same concern for Pete, but I guess voiced a little differently. My beef with Pete's character is that he is sometimes the bad guy and sometimes a friend. I feel if an older child, or a child that is already in day care might be able to relate to Pete for being on the "outs" from popular kids. Pete is also "overweight" and is the only one in the show that could be described this way, also giving way to his "position" in the group of friends. Pete is not a character to model after, and I am afraid kids that might be able to identify with Pete and start portraying his actions.

    That being said, my 2 year old loves MMC for right now.

  2. Although I do not have a toddler as of yet (still a crawler), I found this list to be very helpful with what kinds of shows are developmentally okay. Will there be a list of good shows? Is watching home movies developmentally helpful for one's child? I read somewhere that it was but do not remember where. I used to be a nanny in Canada and one of the WORST shows I saw there was a show "The Doodlebops" that the children were allowed to watch each day. Ugh. It was like a musical version of Teletubbies where all the characters spoke in high voices...even the men. What is your opinion about letting children watch shows that have large vocabularies from the time they are very small like Julius Sumner Miller, my husband watched that show from the time he was about 3 and in it he explains he does not believe in speaking down to children in order to stretch their minds. Can early exposure to a developed vocabulary in good television shows help children more than the shows that speak "baby talk" even if the subject matter might not all be understandable at the time?

    1. Julius Sumner Miller taught science experiments and learning through science, yes? I think that if your child is interested in something like that, and you're watching with them, that you'd be able to bring it to their developmental level by highlighting what the person is doing instead of the science behind it. I just don't know how long that would hold a toddler's attention! :)

      That said, I fully believe that the lessons you expose your child to depend on what level your child currently functions. Depending on the level, sometimes "baby talk" is developmentally appropriate. One way we teach our younger clients speech is to simplify our speech into word units that they are able to identify in isolation in order to learn the concept or vocabulary word.

  3. Opps! Sorry, for some reason the 'good shows' article didn't come up at first. Nevermind on that point! :D

  4. As you know, we LOVE, YGG around here. But I think your reasons for it only being "meh" are spot on. I never really understand the transitions myself -- so how can a toddler? But the music keeps my kid hooked.

    And I 100% agree with your "ugly" shows. They do not go on in my house.

  5. I completely agree with your ugly show list. Those shows are terrible for kids!

    I admit, one of the boys is a Little Einsteins addict. I dig it for the exposure to orchestral music and art, less for the language. Not to mention that each show is focused on the characters solving problems, which I also like.

    1. Little Einsteins almost made my top list :)

  6. I am shocked that adults would think cartoons like family Guy are for kids! Now I personally love that show but it's so offensive in certain ways it's definitely NOT for my 2 year old!

    Sesame Workshop has done a lot of research on holding kids attentions and transitions, so much so that a few years ago the debut of Elmo's World was in response to most kids not paying attention for the full hour - so they shortened the traditional show to 45 minutes and added in Elmo's world for the last 15 which I think was a smart move - they said that kids responded much better to it! They also found the 'magazine format' (different short segments) helps to teach a concept from different angles as long as it follows a general story, which the newer ones (that I've seen) do. Two thumbs up in my book!

    1. That sounds great about the newer format of Sesame Street! I feel like I've only seen older episodes on our Netflix. I'll have to look again!

  7. I have to disagree with you on Barney. We let C watch a half hour of Barney most mornings (I watch it with her). There are a lot of episodes where the characters have to learn to share, use their manners, or do things that maybe they don't want to do. The show also teaches children about the importance of loving one another, caring about the planet, doing things that are healthy for our bodies, overcoming fear, etc.

    In my opinion, having watched several of the episodes, it's one of the few shows I actually do feel comfortable allowing my child to watch.


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