Research has shown that when parents watch TV with their children, kids get more from the experience overall. Here are five programs to try viewing as a family.

By Erica Jackson Curran
February 23, 2021
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An image of the show The Baby-Sitters Club.
Credit: Courtesy of Kailey/Schwerman Netflix.

Thanks to the pandemic, kids are watching more TV than ever before—and the mom guilt can feel too real.

While finding ways to cut back on kids' screen time might seem like the ideal solution, turns out, one of the best things you can do is sit down with them, too. Research has shown that when parents view TV programs with their children, kids gain a deeper understanding of what they're watching and get more out of the experience overall.

It's called co-viewing, and the practice was investigated by researchers in a 2017 study from Texas Tech University. When observing children watching TV with a parent, researchers noted that the children's heart rate and skin conductance both increased (which essentially means the skin becomes a conductor of electricity). According to the study, these physiological changes signaled how much effort the children were putting into learning from the program. When kids watched the show alone, on the other hand, they were more apt to zone out.

Those findings aren't necessarily surprising, considering that previous research has shown that kids are more interested in activities when parents are involved. TV is no exception, says child psychologist Nicole Beurkens, Ph.D.

"From a developmental standpoint, parents are able to guide the child's viewing experience by talking about what they are seeing and hearing, asking thoughtful questions, sharing emotions together, and more," Dr. Beurkens explains. "This provides the child with an enhanced experience of not just seeing and hearing what is happening on the screen, but having the parent help interpret and make meaning of it with them."

When searching for shows to watch together, Emily King, Ph.D., a Raleigh, North Carolina-based psychologist and mom of two, says that it's important to choose media that matches a child's language skills and attention span. "For example, many children with autism and developmental delays will watch television shows designed for younger audiences, but often this is a match for their social and language development, not their chronologic age," says Dr. King.

But don't worry—that doesn't mean you have to submit yourself to an hour of eye-glazing cartoons with loud musical numbers. Here are five of our favorite kid-friendly TV shows that the entire family will enjoy.

The Magic School Bus Rides Again

An image of the show The Magic School Bus Rides Again.
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix.

Parents who grew up in the '90s no doubt remember the excitement of having a TV rolled into their classroom to watch Miss Frizzle's memorable science lessons on The Magic School Bus. Now, Netflix is rebooting the beloved show for today's generation. One major perk to the revival: Ms. Frizzle (the original teacher's younger sister) is voiced by Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon.

Netflix, ages 5+

Ask the StoryBots

An image of the show Ask the StoryBots.
Credit: Courtesy of Netflix.

This highly-rated and humorous educational series is as fun for parents as it is for young children. Each episode follows the characters as they seek to answer a real kid's question, like "Why is the sky blue?" Catchy songs, music videos, and celebrity cameos (like Jay Leno and Kevin Smith) keep things interesting and engaging along the way.

Netflix, ages 3+

Little Big Shots

An image of the show Little Big Shots.
Credit: Courtesy of NBC.

Indulge your craving for reality TV with this NBC series that shines a spotlight on talented kids with incredible skills in martial arts, music, gymnastics, and more. Your kids—and even you—may be inspired to try something new after watching an episode.

NBC, ages 5+

The Baby-Sitters Club

An image of the show The Baby-Sitters Club.
Credit: Courtesy of Kailey/Schwerman Netflix.

Millennial and Gen X parents surely know the books, watched the show, and devoured the movie decades ago. Now, The Baby-Sitters Club is back for a new generation on Netflix. The show's diverse cast gives young viewers positive role models that they can relate to, while tackling tough issues like gender identity, divorce, and racism. The smart, loyal, entrepreneurial characters are also a welcome break from "mean girl" personas that can sometimes be common in shows targeted to adolescents and pre-teens.

Netflix, ages 10+

Treehouse Masters

An image of the show Treehouse Masters.
Credit: Courtesy of Animal Planet.

This Animal Planet series is a favorite of Dr. King and her sons, aged 7 and 13. "I think it's really important for kids to see how other people live, situations they have gone through that may have impacted their home, and how we can rebuild or make a space better by helping and thinking creatively," she explains. Gather inspiration for your own projects to tackle as a family, or marvel in the elaborate, multi-bedroom treehouses (most complete with electricity and plumbing) designed on the show.

Animal Planet, ages 10+