Screen time. One of the perks and pitfalls of modern day parenthood. Yes, we get 25 to 90 minutes of relative peace and quiet, but we also have to make sure our kids are watching shows which reinforce our rules and values … and that they aren’t frakking annoying.
Here are my guidelines for evaluating shows and movies:
1. How does it represent women and girls?
For those unfamiliar with the Bechdel-Wallace test, it requires that a show have a minimum of two (named) female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. It’s astounding how many shows and movies don’t pass this test.
In addition to how the number of female characters and what they talk about, I look for the types of women and girls shown. Are they well developed characters? Do they fall into stereotypical roles or archetypes?
2. Does it have a diverse cast?
I want my kids to see different cultures, races, backgrounds, and abilities celebrated, so I look for shows which help expose them to people who aren’t white folks from New England.
3. Do actions have consequences?
If the characters make poor decisions, misbehave, or willfully break rules (or laws), there needs to be some sort of repercussion.
4. Is there character development?
While most TV shows for kids follow the same basic plot in each episode, the characters still need to have an arc, i.e.: they have to change (get better or worse) over the course of the story.
5. Are the STEM elements accurate?
I don’t expect a show for kids to get into detailed explanations of physics, organic chemistry, or engineering, but the movements and reactions should be based on quality science. (Additional criteria: do women have careers in STEM fields?)
6. Do the characters/actors speak well?
One of my least favorite characters is Baby Bear on Sesame Street. He doesn’t pronounce things correctly, and no one bothers to correct him. I’d be fine with the affected speech if he saw a speech therapist (it’s always awesome to show kids that getting help is a good thing), and I have no problem with actors who have a speech impediment (again, it’s great to show kids diversity in all areas), but I do take issue with creating a character voice like that with no purpose for education.
7. Does it have quality animation (or camera work)?
If the animation is choppy, busy, or awkward (humans should still move like humans), then I’ll think twice about whether or not I’ll put it on.
8. Is the music well written?
If a show includes music as a main focus, it should have quality orchestration, lyrics, and performances.
9. Can I tolerate it?
There’s an x-factor with some shows. I won’t have any real reason to dislike it, aside from I find it annoying. Then there are the shows that I leave on even when my kids have fallen asleep or decided to do something else.
10. Do my kids like it?
Bottom line, a show doesn’t have to meet every guideline here if it’s fun. Yes, I want my kiddos to learn from everything, but I also want them to enjoy being kids. If they’re not interested in a show, it’s not worth trying to make them watch it – even if I think it’s the best thing since Mister Rogers.
Did I miss anything? What criteria do you use when picking shows for your kiddos?