Do some research of your own to find out which shows are best for your child. Find a TV information organization or website that offers reviews and advice that matches your values and helps you find the right shows for your child, Kleeman says. Common Sense Media does a very good job of analyzing programs, he says.
Let children watch educational shows that have a curriculum within the program. "The best educational programs for children have just that—they are intended to teach," Dr. Christakis says. "You can't teach if you don't have a plan, and the plan should be obvious to parents."
First, you should be able to detect the central message or theme of the show. Then, investigate whether your child is getting it. "At the end of the show or during the show, see if they are learning what they're supposed to be learning," he says. If not, the show might not be high quality or it just doesn't fit your child's needs, Dr. Christakis says. Perhaps your child is too old, too young or just not engaged enough with the content.
Instead of turning on the television to find something to watch, have a show in mind before you turn on the TV for your children. "Put in a little bit of time to figure out what it is that you really want to watch, watch that show and then turn it off," Dr. Christakis says. "We have to take control of the medium; we have to not let it control us."
Watch TV with your child—or at least be able to hear or see the television. "Many parents don't co-view anymore," Dr. Christakis says. "That's actually not the way these shows were intended. They were intended for parents to be part of the process, to reinforce the message."
Look for opportunities in your day-to-day life to play off the educational benefits or just the quality benefits that your kids watch. "There are plenty of ways to continue the learning once the set is off," Kleeman says. An example: Kleeman's daughter grew up watching Nickelodeon's Guts, a show in which children competed in athletic events and obstacle courses to receive prizes. Although the show wasn't education-focused, he would take his daughter to the park and set up obstacle courses to incorporate what she had learned from the show into her everyday life.
Remember, it's quality, not quantity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should watch no more than two hours of TV per day. Dr. Christakis tells parents to let them watch no more than an hour a day, but he stresses the importance of not only how much, but what and how. "I would rather that they watch two hours of quality programming than a half an hour of sexualized aggression," he says. "They [parents] shouldn't focus so much on quantity that they lose sight on quality."