How to Have Media Conversations With Children
By Cynthia Mitchell
September 09, 2022
Television and streaming content are passive experiences. But when parents co-watch with their children, viewing becomes an engaging learning experience.
Parents who play an active role in their children’s media consumption, empower them to activate their minds, establish good media habits and cultivate skills that will serve them for a lifetime.
THE PRESCHOOL YEARS
Despite all the educational shows directed toward preschoolers, it isn’t easy for children to learn from videos before grade school. Young children learn best when parents help them make sense of what they are seeing.
Think about how parents read to young children. There’s a dialogue that takes place – a back-and-forth conversation that helps the child identify objects on the page, learn the names of things, and understand the story. That same method can be applied to watching digital media.
The Peer Sequence, made popular for reading, is a method to foster dialogue between an adult and a child. This sequence helps them to become more actively involved in what they are watching. Adapted for digital media, the dialogue:
- Prompts the child to say something about the video
- Evaluates the child’s response
- Expands the child’s response by rephrasing and adding information to it, and
- Repeats the prompt to make sure the child has learned from the expansion
Here’s an example: As the parent and the child are watching a cartoon with a red car, the parent says, “What is that?” (the prompt) while pointing to the car. The child says, car, and the parent follows with “That’s right (the evaluation); it’s a red car (the expansion); can you say red car?” (the repetition).
It’s a simple method that helps children observe, name and understand the relationships between objects and events that take place in the story.
THE GRAMMAR YEARS
In the grammar years, typically ages 4-11, kids naturally acquire and remember knowledge, facts, and information. While adults tire of the repetition of a story because we think abstractly. kids love to hear a story over and over.
Along with repetition, children in this stage love memorization. It makes sense, right? Repetition and memorization go hand-in-hand, such as rules of phonics and spelling, rules of grammar, poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plants and animals and the human body, the facts of mathematics — frankly things we adults may find drudgery, kids embrace in this unique stage of learning.
In contrast, middle-schoolers are less interested in finding out facts than in asking “Why”. And high schoolers naturally argue, think critically and express themselves independently.
In keeping with a child’s learning stage in the grammar years, choose shows with songs, poetry, and chants that help kids have fun while memorizing facts in any of a wide array of subjects including arithmetic, history, geography, language, science and more.
Memory Songs, Chants and Poetry
- Participate with your child as they sing, chant or recite a poem
- Ask your child to perform it on their own
- Associate objects, events or activities in daily life with what the child has learne
In addition to educational shows, television and digital media can also introduce a child to historical figures, artists, musicians, and fictional tales. Whether cartoon or live action, stories present a wonderful way for parents and children to bond through a shared experience that becomes a kind of common language.
The dialogue you have with a child in the grammar years tee up the relationship in the tween and teen years where media discernment and open conversation become essential to their safety and worldview.
Here’s a sample of types of questions you might consider for shows and movies that tell a story:
- What do you think this show is going to be about?
- What kind of characters do you think will be in the show?
- What do you think is going to happen?
- Where is the story taking place?
- Did you see how. . .?
- What did that person . . .?
- What do you think will happen next?
- How would you compare…?
- If you were that character, what would you have done differently in that situation?
- What was your favorite part of the show? Why?
- Who was your favorite character? Why?
- If the main character in that story lived near you, would you be friends?
- What was the most interesting thing you learned?
- Did it end the way you thought it would?
- If you could change one thing in the show, what would it be?
Try selecting a few questions and practice dialogues with your child during the preschool and grammar years and see for yourself how you can deepen your relationship while teaching them how to learn.
About The Author
Cynthia Mitchell is CEO of Creator Films, a media company producing faith-infused content for children and their adults. One voice by itself doesn’t carry much weight, but when a community of people mass together and unify around a common vision, we can change the world of entertainment. Visit our Children Are Watching campaign to voice your opinion to media companies and artists.