How Letting Your Children Watch T.V. Can Be Good for Their Critical Thinking Skills

Family Matters on 07.01.11

Your plan to monitor every last bit of media that your kids are exposed to is a noble one -- but it's also nearly impossible to follow through on, says professor Özlem Sensoy in The Tyee. Keeping track of the commericals, shows, movies, and internet ads that cross your child's path simply requires more time than most parents have to spare.

But with summer vacation here -- and the days packed with more hours to fill than during the school year -- Sensoy offers three tips for making your kids "Schlock Proof" with media literacy skills that, he says, "serve kids in the immediate as a defence against any and every form of pop-slop that Corporate Inc. is selling, and in the long term develop critical thinking skills about media messages in general." The good news: Your kids don't have to be watching Sesame Street or The Magic School Bus to hone this technique -- it works just as well with the morning cartoons and movie-night features that you give in to on those rainy August days.

Sensoy offers three tips for parents who want their kids to think critically about the shows they're watching. We like the first one, because it works for kids of just about any age:


Turn kids into data detectives. A simple frequency or event count to draw kids' attention to what's there (and what's not there). For example, while watching any show, have kids keep track of variables such as: how many product placements or logos can you spot within the show (exclude commercials)? How many male versus female characters are there? How many people of colour? White people? How is work represented? Which characters have which jobs? Count the number of times characters yell and hit, or collaborate and comfort each other.


The other two -- which encourage kids to track cross-platform marketing efforts and look for commercials that advertise older products to younger children -- are also great suggestions for slightly older watchers.

Says Sensoy:


Some might argue that this is making too much of toys, games, and movies. This is all just entertainment and it's ridiculous to make so much of it. But who benefits from such a perspective -- those who are selling that entertainment? Or those who are paying for it? The point here is that kids don't necessarily need to be protected in order to resist corporate popular culture and media messages or incursions into their childhood. And that developing the skills to do so has long-term positive effects on their critical thinking skills.


More from The Tyee.

Photo: espensorvik/Creative Commons