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Why Watching TV and Movies Is Better Together

Co-viewing tips to promote learning and bonding.

Research shows that watching TV and movies with your kids, also called "co-viewing," has a range of positive effects. It can support early literacy skills, boost empathy, and even help manage aggression after exposure to violent media.

So how do you actually co-view and reap those benefits? Try these tips with young kids:

Focus their attention.

Help kids pick up story details by verbally pointing out specific parts of what you're watching, whether it's a strange new word, a confusing part, or just an interesting detail. Say: "Look at his shiny new shoes!"

Encourage them to think about the order of events.

This helps kids think about sequence and cause and effect. After watching the show, or before watching something they've seen before, say: "Can you remember what happened after the dog got loose?" You can also pause the show and ask: "Tell me what's happening now."

Strengthen their understanding.

Ask who, what, when, why, where, and how questions to get your kids to use new words and think through what they've seen. Say: "Who is that? Where do they live? Why are they doing what they're doing?"

Make it relatable.

Have children link what they see to their own lives. For example, "Wow, they're angry. What did you do the last time you were angry?" This helps kids learn to express themselves, cope with feelings, and understand others better.

Expand on what kids say.

Rephrase information from the show or things your kids have said back to them, relate details to your own life, or add new information. These are all ways to improve conversation skills, teach kids about the world, and bolster your connection. Say: "Loud noises scared Daniel Tiger. I don't like loud noises either. How do you feel when you hear loud noises?"

Of course, you don't have to co-view every single show. It's not possible to always co-view with them when you need to do something else. But you can use their favorite shows as a way of making conversation with them later.

Here's a badly kept secret: Kids like to talk about the shows they watch and the games they play -- a lot. Take advantage of this, as it will open up all kinds of opportunities to find out about what your kids are interested in, the things that are important to them, and even what's happening in their lives. You may be surprised at where your conversations lead.

Michael Robb

Michael Robb is head of research at Common Sense, overseeing the development and execution of a mission-aligned research program, overseeing multiple research projects on the roles of media and technology in children and families' lives. He has published research on the roles of media and technology in children's lives in a variety of academic journals, and his work has been featured in press outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR. Michael also has supervised community educational outreach efforts, helping parents and teachers make the most of quality children's programming. Michael received his B.A. from Tufts University, and M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology from UC Riverside.


Michael lives in Connecticut with his wife, two sons, and dog, Charlie. His hobbies include hiking, cycling, racquetball, escape rooms, video games, and binge watching great TV shows. Since having kids, he's now perfecting the art of picking up toys, building obstacle courses with pillows, and napping. He and his wife force their children to listen to showtunes in the car.