Kid Insight

Common Sense: Here’s how great media can build character

Common Sense Media youth development researcher Yalda T. Uhls discusses findings from the organization's recent study that links media to proper character development among kids.
December 20, 2017

It’s probably no surprise to people who create stories for kids, but did you know that academic research clearly demonstrates that great media content can help children learn character strengths and life skills? And that parents want to use media to teach their kids this kind of learning? While the negative narrative seems to get more press—just look at the recent controversy surrounding inappropriate YouTube contentthe role of media (especially of the digital variety) is only proliferating among kids, and parents want to help their children find the “good stuff.”

For example, in a 2017 survey of 3,377 parents on the Common Sense Media website, users reported that “learning about media that supports character development” was one of the key drivers to visiting our media recommendation platform. In addition, in a survey with Latino families, character education was rated as the second most important topic for parents, with one in three citing it as an area very important to them.

In response to this demand, Common Sense Media has released a new report entitled Character is Common Sense: A Report on an Initiative Linking Media, Kids and Character, which details our work for the past two years on our character strengths and life skills initiative. The study was generously funded by the Bezos Family Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation.

Some of things we learned?

  • In order for kindergartners (ages five and six) to get moral lessons from television, don’t “muddy the message” by combining pro-social and anti-social models. In fact, simplicity is essential. Focus on one main narrative, which is supported by a singular action.
  • The ability to fully summarize the gist or main theme of a story develops late—often not until age 14. Tween and teen viewers often reject moralistic messages in order to protect their sense of freedom and/or reassert their independence.

  • Parents want resources to help them use media content to teach. They realize that they can’t restrict kids’ media usage, and want to easily find quality options for them.
  • Above all else, parents care most about teaching their kids integrity, communication and gratitude.

Thanks to Common Sense’s resources for families and educators, we’ve compiled a list of media content that distincly portrays relatable, inspirational characters and situations that spark meaningful family conversations. Among the top-rated TV shows that promote humility, for example, are Phineas and FerbAnne of Green Gables: The Animated Series and Rugrats, while movies that inspire gratitude include VeggieTales: Madame Blueberry and Up. Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day and Trudy Ludwig’s The Invisible Boy both top our list of books that promote tolerance and diversity, and themes of self-control are taught through TV toons like Puffin Rock (Netflix) and NutriVentures (Hulu).

Our full list of media that promotes character development can be found here, while our full Character is Common Sense report (email registration required) is available to read here.


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