It may be a leap to dispute the American Academy of Pediatrics’s recommendation for zero TV-watching (or any media use) for kids younger than two, but surprisingly, there are a variety of studies showing that educational TV can have a positive impact on kids preschool-aged and above.  Even the AAP suggests that an hour of TV for this age group is okay, as long as it involves “high-quality content.”  But what does “high quality” really mean?  And just how can educational TV really help?

Educational TV helps build knowledge in science, history, literature, art, or music, as well as teaching social or emotional skills.  It is engaging, well-crafted, and, ideally, enjoyable for parents and educators, too.

In fact, a study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that trying to expose preschool children to educational programming encouraging empathy can improve emotional intelligence and reduce aggression.  Researchers from the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the University of Washington divided 565 parents of children ages three to five into two groups:  one that tracked and guided their children’s media intake and one that did not.  After six months, the children whose parents had actively tried to expose them to TV that encouraged viewers to ask questions and deal proactively with difficult situations by being kind, friendly, and working with others were somewhat less aggressive than the control group.  These children also scored higher on measures of social competence even up to a year after the experiment.

Interestingly, low-income boys showed the most improvement, though the researchers were unable to say why.

“The take-home message for parents,” said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, the leader of the study, “is it’s not just about turning off the TV; it’s about changing the channel.”

Though by no means a conclusive study, this and other research does suggest that what children watch can have a positive impact on their intellectual and emotional development.  A wide variety of children’s TV shows, such as Curious George, Wild Kratts, Dinosaur Train, Backyardigans, and Super Why!, provide opportunities for children to learn important skills, with the added bonus that many are easily available through services like Netflix.

While massive amounts of screentime may not be the most educational choice for kids, well-guided TV choices could very well provide an opportunity for children to learn important skills.