Common Sense Launches Pioneering System to Identify Movies and TV Shows That Teach Character

New Tool for Parents Concerned with Social and Emotional Learning in Education Evaluates Media Based on How Effectively the Storylines Present Positive Character Strengths

Common Sense Media
Wednesday, March 9, 2016

SXSWedu™ (Austin, Texas) – In today's 24/7 digital world, kids are saturated by media and parents are concerned about the messages their kids are soaking up. Today Common Sense Media is announcing a new rating tool to help parents discover, use and choose tv shows and films that portray positive character strengths in a way that experts have determined can support kids' development. The initiative, funded by the John Templeton Foundation and the Bezos Family Foundation, was launched during a SxSWedu panel discussion, "Can Media Teach Character Strengths and Life Skills?" featuring character education experts, academics and entertainment producers.

The 2015 Common Sense Census charted the enormous amount of time that tweens and teens in the US spend with media - 6 and 9 hours a day, respectively. Common Sense also recently hosted a survey of over 3000 parents asking them to name their top concerns for their child's education. Overwhelmingly, the number one choice was "my child's social and emotional learning," scoring more than "my child's stress" or "the quality of teaching."

"Media is a powerful force for both positive and negative learning," said James P. Steyer, CEO and Founder of Common Sense. "By highlighting storylines that focus on important character strengths, we can harness the power of media and help parents address one of their top education concerns, which is social and emotional learning. We hope this initiative provides parents with information to make educational media choices that will help their kids thrive in today's world of media and technology."

The character strengths were chosen after a comprehensive review of 133 articles and books and 15 expert interviews. In addition to consulting with a multi-disciplinary advisory council of academics, educators and Hollywood executives, Common Sense conducted both an online survey of parents and grandparents and focus groups with parents and teachers before its internal team of editors and educators finalized the list of character strengths.

The eleven character strengths are: integrity, compassion, gratitude, self-control, empathy, humility, teamwork, courage, curiosity, communication, and perseverance. Over 600 movies and tv shows will be rated at, where parents can also find conversation guides to help them talk to their kids about the pro-social messages in each program.

"We often think about the negative effects of media, but it's also important to look at the positive value of storytelling," said Richard Weissbourd, a child and family psychologist and senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. "Stories can teach children about prosocial behaviors just as they can model antisocial behaviors, such as aggression. Common Sense is helping parents choose the right stories to make family movie night a family learning night."

Common Sense is in discussions with content providers about incorporating storylines that include character strengths, in much the same way Common Sense has been working with Hollywood to highlight other important issues for kids like cyberbullying and sexting.

"Like Common Sense Media, PBS KIDS believes that high-quality media content can make a big impact in helping children build the social-emotional skills they need to be successful in school and in life," said Lesli Rotenberg, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Children's Media and Education, PBS. "We know that our young viewers view PBS KIDS characters as friends and role models, which is why we ensure that all of our series model positive behaviors and character strengths. We are proud to have PBS KIDS series recommended through Common Sense's new character strength ratings system, which offers parents powerful tools to make informed media choices for their families."

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About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families and educators thrive in a world of media and technology. We rate, educate, and advocate on behalf of kids, families, and schools. Common Sense Media, which facilitates the consumer website, offers the world's largest and most trusted library of age-based ratings and reviews of all types of content targeted at kids, and our research-based curriculum and tools are used in over 100,000 U.S. schools. For more information, go to

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Lisa Cohen, 310-395-2544
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