Monday, March 7, 2011

Media Monday: Cartoons for Kids

We've talked in the past about the importance of making sure kids' cartoons are actually child appropriate. We've also discussed the rating system used by television stations and the criteria they use to arrive at a given rating. However, what are children watch teach them ideas, vocabulary, and social skills. So how can we, as parents, try to use that fact to our advantage?

As I've already discussed, modern technology (TiVo, Hulu and other websites, etc.) is an absolute boon to parents, especially those whose children have social deficits, since it allows us to preview programs and avoid commercials. Avoiding consumerism and the poor behavior encouraged by commercials is a wonderful tool for nipping negative social skills in the bud.

When it comes to cartoons, though, the caricatured way in which human behavior is portrayed can cut both ways. In many examples of anime, for example, competition is over-played for the purpose of satire--humor most young children won't understand. However, some cartoons have the benefit of drawing humor from exaggerated facial expressions and melodramatic speech. While we'd prefer that our children not overact their communication, the emphasis that some cartoons place on communication can be a valuable teaching tool--especially for children who are ill-equipped or too young to notice the more subtle reality.

When I look for cartoons for my son, I prefer to find shows that rarely have more than three characters engaging in conversation at once. This way the conversation is rarely too complicated for him to track. I also like for the imagery to focus on and overplay facial expressions--especially in the context of conversation--so that he can learn from the example. It also makes it easier for me to comment to him on what's happening in the show. At this point, his favorites are the Silly Songs from the Veggietales series (which we watch on Youtube and do not have the religious content found in other parts of the series) and Thomas the Tank Engine (which has the added benefit of a narrator to describe what different characters think and feel in relation to their expressions and conversations).

Used carefully, digital media can be a valuable learning tool for communication skills.

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