Kids Watching Grownup Cartoons - How Bad?

So, lately I keep overhearing young children at the playground talking about ... The Simpsons. I asked a few friends who revealed they sometimes watch Simpsons and other "for grownups" cartoons with their kids (the children ranged in age from 4 to 9). One mom asked, a little sheepishly, "is that bad?"

To find out, I called Caroline Knorr, Parenting Editor of Common Sense Media, a site which reviews media to help parents decide what may or may not be appropriate for children.

"We have The Simpsons rated at 12-years-old and say it's 'iffy,' which really means you would want to watch it with your child, and to talk about the issues that come up, and to make sure that if something comes up that goes against your own values as a family, you're talking with your kids about that."

It definitely matters how the child is watching, Knorr notes. She adds, "The most important thing for children is to have a close relationship with a loving and caring caregiver. So if the child is having a loving interaction with a parent while watching The Simpsons, that will be remembered by the child. That relationship is going to trump the media messages, especially in the early years. It's different than saying: 'Go in another room and watch on your own.'"

But what about younger children watching?
"At the early range of that age group, children don't really understand sarcasm. So while they might be enjoying the rhythm of the jokes and the animation, they don't developmentally understand the sarcasm," she says. "So if a show uses stereotypes to make a point, it might be difficult for kids to understand that."

However, Knorr points out, "If you like the show, your kids are going to want to watch it too, so if you let them watch it with you, you're going to have to have a talk about it."

"Talk to kids about what satire is," Knorr says. "That helps them becomes more savvy about consuming media. At around 10 or 11, kids start to appreciate satire and to understand sarcasm a little better."

Knorr has more tips about kids and media:

Do your homework. "Before turning on the TV, read reviews of the show and if you can, preview the shows yourself first. Even if you don't have a DVR you can find most shows online."

Know your child. "Every child is different, and kids mature physically, cognitively and developmentally at different rates. If a child is stressed out by suspense in a show, be sensitive to knowing that is an issue for that child. Talk about how media creates suspense and how that's a technique used to create a feeling in the viewer." For example, try showing a child that when you turn down the loud music on a show, it seems a lot less intense.

Set limits. "Kids spend 7.5 hours a day with media. And they do absorb the messages that media is putting out there. Everything in moderation."

Finally, Knorr says, parents really can positively influence a child's experience with media. "Studies show that parents being involved in kids' media lives has an effect on how much time children spend interacting with their media and what media they're involved with. If you're involved in their media, then it allows them to have a conversation about it so they're not just processing it in isolation and left to their own understanding of it."

Note: Thanks for all the comments and emails about Can't Ride a Bike at 8. One point a bunch of e-mails made: If a child is having big trouble riding a bike, consider checking the child's vision. Several parents mentioned figuring out much later that a lack of interest in bikes and sports was at least in part due to vision problems. Great point, and thanks for writing!

If you've ever had a less-than-perfect parenting moment that has left you wondering, "How bad?" Send it to Sabrina at She'll try to answer as many as she can.

Sabrina Weill is the founder of the pink and princess-y gift site:
PrincessLovesPink. Many of the Mommy Advisors in this column are the writer's personal or professional friends.
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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.