I'm a mom of 2 and a cofounder and CEO of a kids' media company. Here's what parents should look for in the shows they let their kids watch.
- As a mom of two toddlers, I know that monitoring screen time can be a tricky issue with kids.
- My work has helped me identify the kinds of shows I want my kids to watch.
- Here's the criteria I recommend parents use to determine which shows pass the screen test.
For parents, myself included, it's natural to be concerned about how much time our kids spend in front of a screen. But chasing a magic number for a screen-time limit can be somewhat misguided.
We can establish healthy boundaries around screen time by focusing more on the quality of content our kids are consuming. In a survey of parents in the US conducted last June, 93% said it's important for kids' content to tackle mental and emotional health. In another survey conducted in 2021, more than 70% of parents said they wanted their children to be exposed to media that teaches them about cultures, religions, and lifestyles different from their own.
But on a platform like YouTube, where hundreds of hours of content are uploaded every minute, that's easier said than done. Content that's age-appropriate, entertaining, and educational without being overly simplistic has become somewhat of a holy grail.
As a professional storyteller, I know how to identify healthy content worthy of my kids' time. I thought it would be helpful to share my tried-and-true tactics to help other parents find content they feel good about their kids watching.
Find a message that resonates with you
"Good for you" screen time is possible, but it has to meet critical benchmarks. For starters, there must be a relatable, aspirational character and a storyline that supports child development. I appreciate a show that leaves space for problem-solving — even more so if the situation at hand is something I can relate to as a parent.
For instance, "Bluey" had an episode centered on the kids' not wanting to go to bed. It mirrored my own struggle with bedtime. While watching it, I found it helpful to have a dialogue about how going to bed can sometimes feel hard or not fun. My boys made the connection with what they saw on the screen. I was able to lure them into their nighttime routine by talking about all the adventures they could go on while they were dreaming, just like Bluey when she went to sleep.
My kids are navigating big feelings all the time. Watching YouTube series like "My Friend Lovie," where the characters turn colors based on their emotions, has been so helpful because they send a message that all feelings are OK to have — they're a part of life.
Authenticity wins the day
Just as we've grown tired of seeing filtered, perfect images on social media, we've sought more authenticity in kids' content. I want my kids to aspire not to be perfect but rather to be perfectly themselves, and I want them to see imperfect characters in their shows.
I love seeing characters overcome a struggle or tackle real-world issues in a relatable way. "Ask the StoryBots" does a great job of addressing complex topics, like why people look different, honestly and straightforwardly.
It's important to offer our young kids content that depicts characters learning lessons from situations the kids may encounter as well. Life doesn't follow a straight, predictable path, and any show that can balance the serious and lighthearted aspects we inevitably encounter is a win in my book.
So many of the shows I grew up with reinforced gender norms and stereotypes I wouldn't want to normalize for my own kids. We're living with the most diverse generation in history, so our kids should see faces on their screens that mirror those they see in real life.
Take a critical look at the characters — does the dad go to work while the mom stays home? Are there any families with two moms or two dads? Are there any characters of color? Our children's impressions are formed by what's reflected back to them in the media. Watching characters who look like them or represent different family dynamics is incredibly important.
The Netflix series "Ridley Jones" does a nice job of weaving in these characters in a way that feels organic. The main character has two dads, and the adorable nonbinary bison, Fred, uses they/them pronouns.
Another great example is Qai Qai, the doll of Olympia Ohanian, the daughter of Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian. Qai Qai, who has a booming social-media following and a TV show in development, was designed to be a source of inspiration for young Black girls to be confident.
Screen time that's for everyone
Some people might think all children's content is hokey or boring — like repetitive nursery rhymes you can't get out of your head — but that's not always true. I always watch an episode of a new show before allowing my kids to watch it. If I liked the soundtrack and laughed (or cried), I'll introduce the show to my children. I love "Bluey" for its ability to engage and entertain my toddlers while also making me and my husband laugh.
While there are many schools of thought about what's an appropriate amount of screen time, my experience as both a mom and a professional storyteller has shaped my perspective that the quality of the content is of much greater importance. I hope my "screen test" can help other parents discover content they can feel good about playing for their kids.
Tricia Biggio is the cofounder and CEO of Invisible Universe. She spent more than 15 years as a TV producer and entertainment executive. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two sons.