Setting the Record Straight: Positive Media Can Teach Kids

Kari Henley's recent post on "over-parenting" was overwhelmed by overstatements - especially her suggestion that kids who watch nurturing TV shows like those found on PBS are more likely to be bullies.


I've devoted my career to creating and producing educational children's television, including PBS's "Super Why" and Nickelodeon's "Blue's Clues." I've spent many years working with the nation's top child psychologists, whose research clearly shows that children learn how to act and interact with others through a combination of instruction and emulating what they see and hear, a phenomenon psychologists refer to as "modeling."

In other words: Kids learn by example.

"Super Why" and "Blue's Clues" are both based on this principle. Each series strives to help kids learn reading and other key skills. The shows are also pioneers in interactive television. For example, the superhero characters on "Super Why" address viewers directly, asking them questions and then pausing so kids watching at home can answer. The goal is to help kids learn while they play along with the characters on TV.

Additionally, it's important to present conflict very carefully, never waiting until an episode's end to resolve an issue since drawing out the conflict tends to reinforce bad behavior. My series introduce and resolve challenges right away, providing conflict-resolution skills when they're needed most. I also work hard to create "sticky" content so that when an episode ends, the main ideas are firmly rooted in viewers' minds. The focus needs to be on teaching children how to think, not what to think.

Independent research validates this approach. Last year, a study by the Annenberg School of Communication showed kids who watch "Super Why" score better on standardized tests than those who don't watch.

The study Ms. Henley cited characterizes educational programming much differently. In her case, researchers surveyed parents and asked them to list the three most recent shows their children watched, which doesn't necessarily reflect their children's viewing habits. Also, the study's sample size was limited, making the resulting analyses exploratory in nature.

The bottom line: not all children's shows are educational and not all shows that claim to be "educational" actually help kids learn. PBS's children's shows adhere to stringent educational goals, which is why parents in a recent survey rated PBS KIDS the nation's most trusted educational media brand. And as a mom, I know how important it is to have reliable information to help you make good choices for your children.

After all, if we want this generation to grow up to be successful, we must remember: Kids learn by example.