Monday, October 25, 2010

Age-Appropriate TV and Movies

You know all about what kinds of books we're trying to read with Sam. Now I have something to say about TV and movies.  I already wrote a long post about the "how much" issue a year and a half ago, and there I talked about my general principles in selecting TV and movies for Sam.  (Wow, I still agree with everything I said then.  That doesn't always happen when I re-read my old posts!)  What I want to write about this time is simply what kind of TV and movies Sam is ready for now, at four instead of two and a half years old.

When Sam was two and a half, she was not ready for movies.  She could not follow a storyline that long or complex.  Now, she can and does.  I'm not sure when it happened, but I clearly recall a spurt of growth when I could tell that she was finally was able to follow some of her longer books.  This coincided with her readiness for movies.  When Sam was two and a half, she watched Little Bear almost exclusively on TV.  Nothing has changed in that department.  She loves that show to the exclusion of everything else.

I'm open to Sam watching all kinds of TV and movies - even ones with bad ideas or themes, within reason.  It's easier to talk about what I am NOT open to:

  • TV or movies that have fast cuts.  This technique is obviously an attempt to reduce the medium to the perceptual or even sensational level.  I find it particularly offensive in children's cartoons.  Sam is not allowed to watch Phineas and Ferb, which I think sounds pretty funny otherwise, but I only made it through about 3 minutes before we turned it off.

  • TV or movies that are primarily senseless noise and/or meaningless action.  Sam is not allowed to watch Sponge Bob or anything like it.

  • Anything with scenes of violence or visible suffering such as starving children in Africa.  I don't mind a movie that deals with these issues in the abstract (there's that Sound of Music/Nazi thing again), but I don't want her to see it.  I also don't care about "violence" in cartoons much since it doesn't involve real people, but I wouldn't want her watching nothing but The Road Runner either.  This will change slowly with Sam's age.  I think it's fine to see images of violence or suffering as an adult (whereas I don't think fast cuts or senselessness are good at any age), but not at four.  Sam is not allowed to watch Fight Club or Schindlers List.

  • Anything with a heinous theme or no other redeeming values.  When she's older, she can try any movie she wants and form her own opinions, but I'm keeping her away from the worst of the worst for now.

Again, I'm trying to limit Sam's environment to things that she can process.  There are some notable things that I will allow her to watch.  Unlike a year and a half ago, I no longer think Dora the Explorer is inappropriate.  Sam can understand it now.  I'm just glad she has little interest in it since I still think it's a stupid show.  The point is that there is a lot more that Sam can make sense of now, at four, than she could at two.

I'll allow Sam to watch anything with sex in it, including body parts.  I don't mean pornography, just sex scenes and nudity.  (I suppose I wouldn't let her watch porn.  I guess I'm a controlling mom that way.)  There's no reason she'd really be watching anything like this, but it wouldn't bother me if I turned on the TV and there was a sex scene on the screen before I could get Little Bear queued up.  I've actually watched a childbirth show with Sam and she saw the whole process of a baby being born.  There was nudity and it was bloody and the woman screamed in pain (which is different than suffering), and Sam understood exactly what was happening and had no problem dealing with it - and this was over a year ago!

I also don't mind Sam watching "scary" things like children's movies with dragons or witches or what-have-you.  I've found that what I think might be scary to her is quite often dead wrong.  This is the child who fell in love with the Grinch but wanted to fast-forward through the Whos, and who felt more sympathy for the Abominable Snowman than she did for Rudolf.  If a show is too scary, we'll just turn it off.

In my post from last year, I mentioned that I was coming to like Rational Jenn's approach to screen time for her children.  In a nutshell, Jenn doesn't limit their time on the computer or TV at all, but she does only allow them to choose from a huge selection of parent-approved choices.  Contrary to conventional expectations, her children do not sit in front of a screen all day.

I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet when it comes to TV.  Somehow I've managed to raise a four-year-old who still doesn't know how to work the remote.  But Sam just inherited Adam's old computer.  I'm going to leave it up and running right next to my desk and let her have at it as much as she wants and see what happens.  If she can handle that, maybe she can have that freedom with TV, too.  She's due for an expansion of her freedoms.  I can tell because she's becoming defiant again.  But that's another post...


  1. Mind sharing why you think Dora is a stupid show? We like Dora because it takes a child through simple journeys and adventures... seems similar to _Blues Clues_ that way. We also like that here where we live, it's in Chinese, and it helps to reinforce our 3-year-old's language skills. BTW, I tried to get my kids interested in the Baby Einstein DVD as babies, and neither really enjoyed them as infants, so I stopped showing it to them. Our 3-year-old only showed interest when I tried to show it to the younger one, so I think his interest may have been out of jealousy or curiosity about what the Baby of the family is doing, not because of his own interest.

  2. Yuen, I guess I just don't like Dora's voice and the kind of pedantic feel of it. Honestly, I've barely watched it. But if Sam liked it, I'd let her watch it now. We've never watched Blues Clues either, except maybe once or twice a long time ago to check it out. Sam just wants her Little Bear over and over.

    Baby Einstein is the same way. I don't think there was anything special about it - we just had it on-hand and it worked for us, for that limited time in babyhood. Is there anything that you found that was good for your kids as babies?

  3. Hm, videos for babies. We had 2 videos geared toward infants (one was the Baby Einstein), and neither really worked. However, we noticed that when we sat the baby down with Trevor when the latter watched Dora, he would be riveted. Go figure.

    From my own experience, the best thing for infants is to observe things going on around them (especially human actions) and listening to music and new sounds (like vacuums!). The baby swing and baby carrier worked well, too (although the latter is tiring). As you observed with Sam, with an older child, you can tell when they can understand real vs. pretend, TV vs. non-TV. But with an infant, the amount of time they can stay alert and focused is short because they tire easily, and I'm not sure what's going on in an infant's brain when they see a real Jack-in-the-box versus one on a video screen, so I think I would rather have him see the real thing.

  4. [...] now that I’ve written about TV and books for Sam, and TV for me, it’s time for an update on what I’ve read in the past [...]