Sure, TV shows make great babysitters—but new research explains why viewing programs with your kids sometimes is so crucial to their learning.

asian family watching tv together at home
Credit: Dragon Images/Shutterstock

We know kids' self-esteem and overall well-being is bolstered when parents show an active interest in their favorite activities. But would you believe that principle applies to watching TV, too?

A new study out of Texas Tech University finds that when families view television programs together, children get more out of the experience. Eric Rasmussen and Justin Keene from the University's College of Media & Communication actually documented physiological changes in kids when their parents watched TV with them in a lab setting. Measurements of children's heart rates and skin conductance showed that more learning was taking place versus when parents weren't in the room.

"This is the first time I know of that people are exploring what might be the reasons why children learn better when the parent is in the room," commented Rasmussen.

He also said, "If parents are watching with them, they should know the kids learn things more if they watch with them, whether it's violence, sex, language, whatever. This really suggests that parents need to be more aware of their influence because parents have that influence whether they think they do or not. Just being there is making a difference." Rasmussen added, "It makes sense then that kids would be more interested in TV if the parent is more interested in that as well. I think parents being involved in a kid's life means a lot to kids, whether they know it or not."

Indeed, the research supports the idea that kids are getting more out of TV programs if parents are asking and answering questions and discussing the content with them. In other words, whenever and wherever parents engage with their kids, it benefits them, even if it's in front of the old boob tube.

Of course, realistically, sometimes we are going to pop our kids in front of the TV so we can get things done. But it's also a good idea to sit down with our kids, and watch with them, when we can. This seems like a great way not only to regulate exactly what they are watching, but to start important conversations about topics that are coming up on their favorite shows. Um, and also, who doesn't love reliving their childhood a bit by splaying out on the sofa and taking in some cartoons?

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of coffee.