Plenty of parents these days are thinking about how their kids use electronic devices. According to a 2020 Pew Research Center survey, 71% of U.S. parents with a kid under the age of 12 say they’re at least somewhat concerned about their child spending too much time on screens, and 31% say they’re very concerned.
There’s also a lot of fearmongering about how watching TV affects kids, particularly little ones. But studies on the subject — like this one that shows a link between TV viewing before age 3 and lower test scores at ages 6 and 7 — leave something to be desired. As health economist and “The Family Firm” author Emily Oster points out, kids who watch more TV at young ages tend to be different than kids who don’t in terms of household income, racial background and parents’ education level. So it’s “difficult to draw strong conclusions” from the data, Oster wrote in a piece for FiveThirtyEight.
Watching TV isn’t inherently bad, but it does take time away from other activities kids could be doing, like playing with family or friends, running around outside, coloring or reading books. It’s good to be mindful of your child’s TV consumption, but busy parents know that sometimes putting on a show is the only realistic way to a keep a child occupied for a block of time so caregivers can cook, clean, work or relax. And that’s not something they should be judged for.
Pediatric speech pathologist Deborah Brooks said she personally doesn’t have strong feelings for or against kids watching TV. But she thinks it’s important for families to do what’s best for them.
“Nothing can replace the benefits of one-on-one human interaction,” Brooks told HuffPost. “Nonetheless, TV shows and movies allow for bonding as well. Children may spend time with a family member watching, and this time is also valuable. As a working mom, watching a show also allows me a short period of time to answer emails, wash dishes or put clothes away.”
If you’re trying to find quality kids’ TV that isn’t a drag for parents to watch too, we’ve got you covered. We asked a range of child development experts which shows they personally approve of their kids watching, and why.
“Just this weekend I was on a ‘Bluey’ binge with my daughter as she was sick. This is at the top of my list because not only is this entertaining for kids but I enjoy watching it just as much as they do! I find myself laughing (and crying) as I relate to so many different situations that the characters go through. It is educational as kids learn about communication, problem-solving skills and how to deal with different emotions.
Developmental therapist Kayla O’Neill enjoys watching "Bluey" with her two kids.
“‘Bluey’ also provides lots of great examples for parents on how to play with their kids. ‘Tickle Crabs’ is an episode that I have played out with my kids many times and they still request it on a frequent basis!” — Kayla O’Neill, developmental therapist, parent of a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old
2. ‘Bubble Guppies’
“‘Bubble Guppies’ includes a diverse classroom of children who enjoy learning through imaginative play at school with their teacher. We’ve learned about weather, shapes, colors, different hair types, geography, and more through this show. My daughter also loves the music and we frequently listen to this album while driving.” —Lauren Shuffrey, developmental neuroscientist and researcher at Columbia University Medical Center, parent of a 2-year-old
3. ‘Ms. Rachel/Songs For Littles’
“[Ms. Rachel’s] show ‘Songs For Littles’ is interactive and creates multiple opportunities for children to engage in activities, respond to questions and repeat basic words and phrases. The cast is diverse and the subject matter is educational and inclusive. Furthermore, it’s a show I enjoy watching. At this time in our lives, I have the luxury of avoiding shows I don’t feel like watching!” — Deborah Brooks, pediatric speech pathologist, parent of a 19-month-old
4. ‘The Adventures Of Kid Danger’
“I like ‘Kid Danger,’ a show I watch with my kids, excitedly. It has a fallible superhero and a bunch of cute, smart kids. I like it because it’s a smart script and it shows relationship-building. The characters problem-solve as a team.” — Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist, parent of 7-year-old twins
“My kids found out about this show on their own, asked me about it, and I watched a few episodes with them. In this show, Chris Hemsworth challenges himself to unlock our body and mind’s full potential. Through a series of challenges, he uncovers what the human mind, body and spirit can handle and overcome.
“I love how much they learn about their mental and physical health, acceptance and working through fears. It’s a really great show that’s very well-done. It’s rated TV-14, but I found it was very appropriate for them.” —Ann-Louise Lockhart, pediatric psychologist, parent of a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old
6. ‘Daniel Tiger’
“‘Daniel Tiger’ has been one of my favorites over the years because it teaches lessons on being kind and compassionate to others. It also provides a safe, comforting environment, as the characters learn how to manage their emotions in difficult situations while having fun with friends.
Watching a relevant episode of "Daniel Tiger" before a new or overwhelming experience can help kids feel more prepared, O'Neill said.
“I have had my children watch episodes before certain events such as doctor and dentist appointments as a way to make them more comfortable, as they see Daniel navigate the scenarios that they may be a bit afraid of.” — O’Neill
7. ‘Wild Kratts’
“‘Wild Kratts’ is a show both my kids enjoy watching. Both of my children love animals and this show teaches them about animals and animal behavior. My husband used to watch the original Kratts Brothers show in [the] ’90s and introduced them to the newer series.” — Dr. Stephanie Liu, family medicine doctor and creator behind @LifeOfDrMom, parent of a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old
8. ‘Curious George’
“I used to love ‘Curious George’ when they were little. That monkey is so smart and I loved how kids learned so much from watching George interact with humans. There was knowledge and smart thinking involved, which at their age of 2 to 4 was simply brilliant. The plots were always so good.” — Hafeez
9. ‘Sesame Street’
“‘Sesame Street’ is filled with songs and actual human characters alongside the beloved monsters, interacting, problem-solving, and learning. There are a variety of music and sketch segments that promote entertainment and learning. The cast is diverse and the subject matter is inclusive.” — Brooks
Pediatric speech pathologist Deborah Brooks appreciates "Sesame Street" for its diverse casting and inclusive subject matter.
10. ‘Teen Titans Go’
“My kids love ‘Teen Titans Go’! It’s an animated series that has been on for a long time. It’s a show I really enjoy watching with them, because it’s really hilarious and makes a ton of references to ’80s music, movies and TV shows (my generation). I love explaining a reference they’ve made that my kids don’t quite get and love their reaction and greater appreciation for the joke once they really get it.
“Although it is an animated cartoon series with potty humor and various popular references, the show teaches certain things in an unconventional sort of way. For example, there is an episode where they talked about Daylight Savings, which was completely ridiculous, but it was genius. It actually opened the door to explain what DST really is and why it exists. My kids and I love to laugh and I find a lot of things funny, so this is a great show for all of that.” — Lockhart
11. ‘Cosmic Kids Yoga’
“With winter setting in, ‘Cosmic Kids Yoga’ will be a go-to at my house as a way for my kiddos to add movement to their day as well as learn about mindfulness and breathing. Not only does ‘Cosmic Kids’ provide physical benefits, but the storytelling that is paired with it takes it to the next level. Imagination is encouraged and stories come alive as my kids move along to the different poses. It is also great for parents because we can join in with our kids, allowing us some time together while getting a workout!” — O’Neill
12. ‘The Dr. Binocs Show’
“My daughter and I both like watching ‘Dr. Binocs.’ The show talks about everything from science to geography to history, etc. The animations, music and sounds make it engaging for parents and kids to watch together.” — Liu